Saturday, October 30, 2004

Free UCINET training Nov 4-5

Steve Borgatti of AnalyticTech recently announced a free workshop on UCINET, Nov 4-5 near Boston. My blogger won't accept the link, which is long. So put these together in your browser if you're interested in more information:

Friday, October 29, 2004

Meta-Organizational Network Analysis

A couple weeks ago I attended an excellent seminar entitled "Realizing the Value from Social Networks," organized by Patti Anklam and Nat Welch under the auspices of KM Cluster.

The speakers were quite informative and stimulating. I especially enjoyed hearing about leader-to-leader networks from Jamie Millar at Tapestry Networks, and trust-based leadership from Rob Galford. Bill Ives and Kathleen Gilroy also had excellent advice on blog-based networking, which I have already found fruitful through this very forum.

During the day, I had the good fortune to sit and compare notes with Marion Kane and Roberto Cremonini of the Barr Foundation. Their new corporate slogan is "Using knowledge, networks, and funding to build a better Boston for all." The idea is to help nonprofit organizations collaborate more effectively at the inter-organizational level.

Talking with Marion and Roberto reminded me of a paper "Network Measures of Social Capital" that I mentioned recently but didn't finish discussing. In the paper, authors Steve Borgatti, Candace Jones, and Martin Everett neatly categorize social capital into four categories based on two criteria: Is the actor being considered an individual or group? And is the focus of analysis internal actor dynamics or external collaboration/competition?

The two most-studied categories in this scheme are (1) external competition among individual actors and (2) internal dynamics within a group. These may sound like two ways of saying the same thing, but as the authors point out so well, the issues come up differently in each case.

Outside the realm of typical SNA research, but certainly well studied, is internal dynamics of an individual, otherwise known as psychology.

Of the four categories, that leaves one remaining: external collaboration/competition among groups. This quadrant has certainly received plenty of attention under different guises (e.g., international relations and corporate competition come to mind). But in hard-nosed scientific terms, I would venture to say that this quadrant is the least understood of the four.

The authors describe several techniques for measuring social capital in this context ("external measures for collective actors"). Both techniques leave plenty of room for improvement.

One approach is to use standard measures of social capital. Since these techniques measure relations among many individuals, not among multiple groups, we have to represent each group as a single individual in order to use these techniques. This is very neat and tidy, but by collapsing one group to a single node we lose track of differences between individuals in that group. Do you care if the external relationships of your team all belong to one person, or are distributed among several individuals? If so, then you are losing something here.

Some researchers embrace this model fully. Some time ago I enjoyed meeting professors N. Venkatraman and Bala Iyer at Boston University's Systems Research Center. They are studying network-centric business strategy, uncovering intriguing trends based on complex networks of simple business-to-business relationships.

Another approach described by Borgatti et al is to use 2-mode networks. [Note: Explaining 2-mode networks is beyond this post, and there are no good links I can find.] Unlike the previous technique, these networks do represent all groups and all individuals. However, 2-mode networks only represent very limited kinds of relationships. Do you care about relationships between individuals other than "share membership in the same group"? For example, perhaps you also care who knows whom? Then you are losing a lot with a 2-mode network.

I'd say that the field of SNA has just scratched the surface in studying networks of organizations.

Complex Decisions Made Simple, Part II

In my last couple posts, I have mused about David "Papi" Ortiz, Red Sox slugger extraordinaire. What can a community leader learn from Papi's proficiency at coming through in the clutch?

Today I complete this series with another example of high-drama community-based decision-making. And frankly, I will be glad to retire the whole Ortiz metaphor. Beating up on the Yankees was all well and good, but the recent World Series reminded me all too painfully that I was raised a die-hard Cardinals fan long before I moved to Boston. What a dilemma! But I digress.

Let's return to the action:

Our committee leader prepares to take the podium. His team has spent the last nine months drafting a critical document to be approved at the semi-annual meeting. Two weeks before the vote, the community finally starts to pay attention to the many complex issues long ago discussed by the committee.

Questions arise: Couldn't the committee have done a better job? Are we really ready to approve this document? Proposed amendments begin to circulate informally. Meanwhile, the committee is done; they are not putting another six months into this. The semi-annual meeting will be the do or die moment...

In last week's Part I of this series, I shared an unhappy resolution to this dramatic setup. Unknown to the drafting committee, a concerned faction goes underground, writes their own document, and organizes a resistance movement to sway opinion in their favor at the semi-annual meeting. (This just happened at a semi-annual meeting I attended, and it was ugly.)

In today's Part II, I share a much happier conclusion, based on a different community I am involved with.

In this case, the drafting committee organized a pre-meeting "town hall" gathering specifically to discuss the language of its proposed document. This was billed as the "last chance" to suggest any edits. The true semi-annual meeting one week later therefore became even more of a rubber-stamping ritual than it might have been (though a "no" vote was theoretically possible).

The drafting committee prepared carefully for the town hall gathering by presenting two slightly different documents for discussion. These two options gave the community a chance to participate in creating, not just approving, the document -- but in a very controlled way. And the similarity of the two alternative documents suggested the scope of changes that were still open for debate (not much).

Even with that much orchestration, the town hall gathering was still as thrilling as David Ortiz batting in the 14th inning, for those of us who had spent the last nine months drafting the document under consideration. Suggested changes did come up and it took all the skill of our committee leader to hear them and guide the meeting to a unanimous consensus. "Let's discuss this off-line" was not an option at this gathering, so attaining closure in one hour was no small feat.

The drafting committee still might have run into trouble, had an underground resistance movement decided to ambush its document at the official semi-annual meeting. Thankfully, no such ambush happened. Might it have? Not likely -- the drafting "committee" was completely open -- more of a forum than a committee. Its every meeting was announced publically, and anyone who wanted to could join in the ongoing creative process.

And now for the post-game summary. Some of the key differences between the happy and unhappy endings to our drama include:

Unhappy Ending:
Drafting committee closes membership,
Drafting committee prepares one document,
Community has one chance to discuss document, at time of official voting.

Happy Ending:
Drafting committee open to all who wish to join,
Drafting committee prepares short list of options for community discussion,
Drafting committee organizes community discussion prior to official voting process.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Complex Decisions Made Simple

Yesterday we left off with Red Sox slugger/hero David Ortiz standing in to moderate at a critical moment. Briefly summarized, what do we do when our community faces an extremely complex decision in a compressed-time, yes-or-no format?

For a dramatic look at this question, see last week's issue of The New Yorker (The Politics Issue, October 18, 2004). Connie Bruck writes "On the Ballot," discussing the ambitiousness and absurdity of a ballot referendum that will essentially have California voters decide the future of embryonic stem cell research in America.

In a nutshell: the US Federal Government will not pay for embryonic stem cell research, but California is considering billing its taxpayers $3B to support it. Imagine what goes through the mind of Nobel laureates who are attempting to understand and explain the issues involved in this question, as they realize the gap between them and the simple majority of California voters who will actually decide the answer: yes or no.

Isn't the NIH better qualified to handle this question?

I had a similar feeling recently at a big semi-annual meeting. These meetings are usually boring rubber-stamp affairs, but this time a controversial but essential legal document was on the agenda. The survival of a critical program depended on the adoption of formal regulations, which an ad-hoc committee had spent nine months writing before submitting eight dense pages for the general community's approval.

To the ad-hoc committee's surprise, an activist faction came to the semi-annual meeting with a competing set of regulations. Instead of a rubber stamping, the meeting became an attack by this activist faction against the work of the ad-hoc committee. The ad-hoc committee tried to defend its work, but its flat-footed response left the audience pretty much on its own to sort through the credibility of the attack.

Eventually, two competing eight-page legal documents were waved around, and 200 of us had one hour to decide which one to approve.

How ridiculous!

As you might guess, the surprise attack won the day. Maybe their regulations are OK, but who can say? Experiences like this give me a new appreciation for what they say about those who love sausage and respect the law. Somewhere in this story too I sense a lesson in why Republicans are kicking the Democrats' asses (so to speak).

Soon I will tell another story with a similar plot line but a much happier ending...

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

David "Papi" Ortiz and Community Dynamics

A raging fever has beset New Englanders this week. The symptoms -- giddiness, anxiety, religious ardor, and incessant caffeine consumption.

Red Sox games in October are always cause for nervous excitement, but this is ridiculous. Three consecutive all-nighters of baseball heroics have drained the energy from ordinarily productive Bostonians and lined owners' pockets at booming coffee shops all across town.

Amidst the post-season dramatics, I wonder how many people have shared my particular wonderment: What is this mysterious word walk-off I keep hearing from baseball announcers? Sunday night, David Ortiz hit a walk-off homerun. Monday night, Ortiz hit a walk-off single. Even as I type this, the announcers on my radio tell me that Ortiz hit a walk-off home run in the Sox' previous playoff series against the California Angels.

Wherefore walk-off and why does it always happen to David Ortiz? And what does this have to do with community dynamics?

After hearing three days of walk-off this and walk-off that, I am proud to say I figured it out. But you can look it up if you don't believe me. A walk-off hit is one that ends a game. In the bottom of the ninth inning, or the bottom of an extra inning, any hit that drives in the winning run is a walk-off base hit. This makes sense because after a walk-off hit, both teams walk off the field.

David Ortiz is rightly considered a hero for his production of walk-off hits (home runs and otherwise). Hitting never counts more than with the game on the line.

And finally, here comes the (tenuous) bridge to Connectedness: Communities, like recent Yankees-Red Sox games, last a very long time. With so much future ahead of them, communities can typically afford to let group decisions evolve gradually. But every once in a while a community finds itself in the bottom of the ninth inning, with a tight deadline looming over an important decision.

I recently experienced the "bottom of the ninth" in two different communities. In each case the general situation was the same: A community appoints a committee to produce a critical document, requiring long and complex deliberation over many subtle questions. Months later, the committee is ready to present its work for approval by the wider community. Despite welcoming feedback at every step of its arduous months-long creative process, the committee doesn't actually attract much attention until this last dramatic phase. Just when the committee thinks it has finally wrestled through all the tough questions, new voices raise all-too familiar arguments.

Here comes David Ortiz to the podium. The semi-annual meeting is one week away.

The committee has drafted a solid document, but the community is anxious. Couldn't the committee have done a better job? Are we really ready to approve this document?

Proposed amendments begin to circulate informally. Meanwhile, the committee is done; they are not putting another six months into this. The semi-annual meeting will be the do or die moment.

Ortiz swings! It's a long fly ball down the right field line! It looks like it's got the distance! Yankees outfielder Sheffield has his back to the fence, he jumps for the ball...

My two recent "bottom of the ninth" experiences ended quite differently. One was a walk-off grand slam (See? It all comes together) and the other a fly out to the warning track. I'll say more about the real-life differences between these two stories soon.


Monday, October 18, 2004

What is social capital and how do we measure it?

Some time ago I commented on the debate over social capital. One side features Harvard professor of public policy Robert Putnam. Putnam argues that American community is in decline and that this trend has dire consequences not just for our social lives but also for our fundamental well-being (health, wealth, etc.).

I found Putnam's work overwhelmingly persuasive, so I was surprised to hear from another side. The Institute for Social Network Analysis of the Economy criticizes Putnam's acclaimed book Bowling Alone: "This book has popularized the notion of 'social capital.' His definition is plausible, but not one that is born out by social network studies."

When I originally discussed these two points of view, I suggested that Putnam would see INSAE's perfectly valid arguments as irrelevant to his thesis. Recently I found a much better analysis of the social capital debate, written by sociologists Stephen Borgatti and Candace Jones of Boston College, and Martin Everett of the University of Greenwich.

I recommend their paper, "Network Measures of Social Capital." The authors take a step back from the various positions on "social capital" and explain that each position represents a different interpretation of the term. They create a two-fold classification system of "social capital" based on the type of actor considered (individual or group) and the focus of analysis (internal actor dynamics, or external actor competition). For each category, they summarize all "reasonable" network measures of social capital.

I find the two-fold classification system very helpful at sorting through the competing claims about social capital. The various network measures of social capital are helpful, but extremely vague. I will say more about this soon. (The Red Sox/Yankees are in extra innings and I can't split my attention any longer!)

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Weekend Edition: Dan Tepfer, Jazz Pianist

After an eventfully blogless week, I am back at the controls of Connectedness. Today I want to share a special musical find with all you fellow jazz enthusiasts.

First, a recent chapter of my own history. It is largely thanks to music, and jazz piano specifically, that I am here writing this blog on social network analysis, organizational development, and community building. About ten years ago I got hooked on the idea of improvising at the piano. Pretty soon I was woodshedding under the guidance of Dave Frank. Dave was a great influence on me -- a passionate free spirit who put his deep analytical rigor completely to the service of his music and teaching, never the other way around. I loved that he was a college professor (at Berklee) but never attended college himself.

My piano passion grew year by year. Eventually, I dove into jazz piano headfirst and left my day job as a logistics consultant. It was a hard life, but one rich with artistic and personal growth. Still, after a couple years, I was ready for something less gritty. A former girlfriend suggested selling pianos. I told her, are you kidding? But once I got over my used car salesman phobia, I realized she might be on to something.

I headed to the Steinway dealership downtown and stumbled upon a life-changing opportunity. The manager there has a knack for sizing up people on the spot. He asked me, would I like to found and direct a nonprofit dedicated to supporting emerging pianists? I thought the idea sounded spectacular, but actually, it turned out even better.

I could go on, but it's time to bring this back to Connectedness. Not long after our nonprofit got rolling and I was having a fantastic time, I noticed a funny thing: the networks I had studied in school seemed like an awfully good way of modeling the connections I was managing as a nonprofit director. Was there something to this? Dear reader, I suspect you know the answer to that question as well as I do.

And now back to my original point... Dan Tepfer! I originally bumped into Dan about a year ago, and got hold of his demo CD, which is an impressive display of pianistic creativity. I finally got to hear him live a couple weeks ago at a Piano-thon at the Zeitgeist Gallery, Inman Square, Cambridge. I loved his playing so much I went to hear him again last Friday, again at Zeitgeist, this time with a trio. Wow! If you like Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, or Brad Mehldau (some of my faves) then I strongly suggest you catch Dan Tepfer soon, before he gets huge and starts playing big venues with expensive tickets.

Here is the Dan Tepfer Trio playing All the Things You Are.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Weblogs as community management tool

Bill Ives is a prolific blogger with lots of good information on his site. Yesterday he pointed to an interesting post about weblogs and their usefulness to community leaders. Though weblogs are not good for discussions, they are ideal for news and hence a great forum for community leaders. I recommend you check out the post by Lee LeFever who writes for Common Craft.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Speaking of sex...

I'm an uncle! My sister Margat and her husband Charlie, who live in Tagertschi, Switzerland (near Munsingen, near Bern), celebrated the birth of their son Benjamin Werner early this morning (October 7, 2004). Social network analysts were not at all surprised by this event, noting that symmetric "married to" relationships produce the majority of babies in our society. Margat and Charlie have been mutually married for 16 years and Benjamin is their fifth child and fourth son. He was born a whopping ten pounds. Here is his first bath:

Monday, October 04, 2004

Studies show: social network analysts like sex

I've been reading a lot of papers lately about perceptions of social relationships. You might guess that what I think of your relationships is not nearly as relevant as "the truth" of what you think of your relationships. But many sociologists would argue that this desire to get at "the truth" is often misguided.

For example, Martin Kilduff and David Krackhardt argue persuasively that your organizational influence depends more on who people think you are connected to than on who you are actually connected to. Clearly, what I think of your relationships does matter.

Of course, the relationship between perception and reality does count for something. In another study, David Krackhardt reveals that those with more accurate perceptions of advice networks (who asks whom for advice) are rated by their colleagues as more powerful. Interestingly, the same power boost does not come to those with accurate perception of friendship networks. For some thoughts on why some people perceive networks more accurately than others, see this paper by Tiziana Casciaro.

When you get right down to it, even your own perception of your relationships is open to interpretation. One person's sense of "friend" may be equivalent to another's sense of "acquaintance." Allowing each person in an organization to rate his own relationships (0=don't know this person .... 5=close friends) can easily create a matrix of Babylon rife with translation errors, though in many respects it is still the best way to go. Another alternative is consensus. Instead of having each individual determine the ratings for his relationships, compute the ratings based on a collective poll.

Thankfully, not all relationships are so open to subjective interpretation. Sex, for example. Clintonesque beatings around the bush aside, either you sleep with someone or you don't. Not only that, but it's a perfectly symmetric relationship. Unlike friendship, not to mention love, unrequited sexual relationships cannot technically exist.

This, The Economist points out in a lovely article on social networks, is the serious reason why social network analysts are fond of studying sex. Theoretically, it makes for cleaner data less open to argument and interpretation. Funny how sex doesn't seem to work that way in most other contexts.

For an example of a social network analysis of sexual relationships, I recommend this study of Swedish sexual networks. This paper includes a couple provocative pictures -- not the kind you might be imagining, but probabilistic charts describing the likelihood that the entire adult population of Sweden is one giant sexually connected cluster. Conclusion: let's be careful out there!

craigslist: the reluctant online community

News Flash -- skepticism rules the latest opinion polls. Most of you think that the Personal Social Network Coordinator position I quoted recently from craigslist is a prank. I'll admit you are probably right about that.

Speaking of craigslist, there is an enlightening chapter about craigslist in Robert Putnam's Better Together, co-authored with Lewis Feldstein and Don Cohen. These authors, all authorities on community building, looked across America for the most encouraging and enlightening case studies they could find. They included many virtual communities in their research, but chose only one for their book: craigslist (specficially in San Francisco, where it is ubiquitous).

A funny thing about craigslist is that its creator, Craig Newmark, never envisioned it as a means of building community. He created a jobs and housing website with a philosophy of open access and member empowerment. Newmark explains what happened from there: "People started telling me that they felt connected in some kind of community sense. I used to be doctrinaire about definitions and I didn't feel it was a community site, but I eventually said, if people feel connected, it must be a community."

I love this. It speaks to a zen-ness of community building, that it happens best when we stop trying to make it happen. The authors contrast the success of craigslist with the story of the WELL, a successful precursor to craigslist that went downhill after going commercial.

I recommend the rest of Better Together as well, for instructive case studies of effective communities in America. The authors have assembled a diverse set of examples, which includes:
  • Branch Libraries: The heartbeat of a community,
  • UPS: Diversity and cohesion, and
  • Portland, OR: A positive epidemic of civic engagement

My favorite of all the chapters is the first -- Valley Interfaith: "The most dangerous thing we do is talk to our neighbors." Valley Interfaith is a chapter of the Industrial Areas Foundation, a federation dedicated to local political empowerment whose Iron Rule is "Never do anything for anybody that they can do for themselves." The IAF taps latent community leaders from the ranks of the disenfranchised, and awakens their sense of empowerment without pushing any overarching agenda. The resulting chain reaction of neighbors talking can really turn the tables on their elected representatives. Politicians in these communities are held to a high standard of stewardship for the interests of their constituents.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Weekend Edition: Tinctoris

It's been a while since I splurged on a recreational blog entry. This weekend is special because I actually got an e-mail from one of my readers. It turns out that someone I know, (only via e-mail, but he is also a friend of a friend) has been reading my blog for a couple months, and just recently made the connection between the blog "Connectedness" and the person "Bruce Hoppe." So he sent me a little note.

Following up on his note, I discovered that he is quite a blogger himself. He's also an ace web programmer who has put all kinds of custom touches into his blog, like an interface to virtually redecorate his apartment.

He and I initially connected over a musically related project, and in this area too he has incorporated original compositions and arrangements into part of his blog.

I took a very brief look through his archives, and this is my favorite post so far. You need sound on your computer to appreciate it. It features a nine-minute opera "Le Beaveaux et le Butthead" that is hilarious to anyone who ever enjoyed that lowbrow MTV cartoon from the 90s (go ahead and admit you were a fan, you're on the Internet now and no one can see you).

Friday, October 01, 2004

Pairs are out, dyads are in

I attended a facilitators workshop today. In events like this I am a big sponge for learning. After soaking up deep discussions and experiential exercises on leaving the comfort zone, collaborative innovation, and co-active coaching, I was especially pleased to take away one big revelation.

"Dyad" is a hot word.

I first encountered "dyad" not long ago. Social network theorists use "dyad" to describe a pair of nodes (aka agents, or people). When I first saw the word "dyad," I breathed a sigh of relief, because it signaled to me recognition by the field of SNA that not all human relationships are dyadic, or pairwise. For example, how much can any combination of pairwise attributes say about your relationship with your parents? That is a powerful dynamic of three if ever there was one, where any pair is distinctly different from the entire set of three. If only dyadic relationships weren't so much more computationally tractable than the other kinds, we might actually try modeling triads, etc.

Anyway... I tucked "dyad" away in my arsenal of academic jargon, ready to wield it whenever faced with a question about the relative merits of degree centrality and betweenness centrality, or some other question signifying an all-out graph theoretic hashing.

Then I got to my facilitators workshop, where we were told to conclude each small group session with "ten minutes of dyads." Holy duo-denum, I thought, as nobody in the room even raised an eyebrow at the instructions. "Dyad" must be a lot more prevalent than I thought!

And indeed it is. A little Googling reveals that "dyad" is most definitely in. Take a look at these hot websites:

dyad sonic & visual improvisation.
Way cool. check it out!

The DYAD way to enlightenment.
This cross of Dalai Lama and Dr. Seuss starts thus:
"Tell Me Who You Are
This is a good first question.
Why do "who" first?
Because it is easier to really know directly the who that is you."

"DYAD studio harnesses seamless creative dialogue between intellectual exploration and the organic realization of ideas through making and doing."
If you say so.

"Dyad Systems is a Cambridge-based consulting company providing professional services to the life sciences community."

"Dyad Security markets Information Security Protection and Security Education services to large and medium-sized businesses worldwide."

"Dyad Constructors is a Houston based commercial general contractor founded in 1977."

If you want to be cutting edge, add "dyad" to your repertoire now.

PS: Here's a plug for another organization: The Boston Facilitators Roundtable (BFR) is a professional development organization for facilitators, trainers, coaches, and others from the New England area. The BFR welcomes anyone interested in facilitating or learning about group process- by participating in our experiential learning programs.