Metaphor to the rescue!

10 August 2007 2 By Viv McWaters

Imagine this. You have nearly 200 people in a room. It’s getting towards the end of a long day of travelling, meetings and workshopping – and you’ve promised to do some Social Network Analysis. You have about 30 minutes.

That’s the scenario I found myself in this week. I know people (Andrew Rixon) who know a lot about Social Network Analysis, but it’s not something I profess to even have much of an idea about really. I like the idea of it – but am still not sure how to use it. Anyway, I digress. And then there was a lot of talk about the importance of knowledge management. Here’s something else I only hang out around the fringes of. My mates at Anecdote know lots about KM – again I’m a novice.

So here I was in a large room (thankfully with lots of space) with lots of pairs of eyes wondering what the Social Network Analysis stuff was all about. Just quietly, I was wondering to myself ‘what was I thinking!!!’ including this when I haven’t got much of a clue what to do.

Andrew and I had talked about hubs and bridges and identifying those people in a group, but I was quickly running out of time and the troops were getting restless, smelling ‘beer-o’clock’ coming up fast.

There were about nine program areas in this group so my first step was to do the improv thing and ‘do something’ (I still wasn’t sure what to do next) – so I got them clumped in their program groups. Some were quite large, others were small (just a few people). It then occurred to me to use the city metaphor. So I suggested that each group was a ‘suburb’ and they were to talk amongst themselves to identify the characteristics of their ‘suburb’. This created great laughter, competitiveness and creative use of language. I then got them to identify the hubs (the ‘go to’ people) in their ‘suburbs’ and the bridges (people that provide links to others in the organisation) to other ‘suburbs’.

It turned out to be a quick and effective way of mapping the system and getting the participants to think about relationships and formal and informal networks. Phew!