My Magical Network Map

book of spells

By Shubi(Shubi) – Self-made just for fun, Public Domain

This is cross-posted on Christine Capra’s blog.

I’m nerd enough to love data, and I understand how much information isn’t available to me when I look around a room. I WANT TO KNOW! Knowing is magic.

In my first practicum about network weaving, coordinated by June Holley and Kristin Johnstad, I learned about network mapping from Ken Vance Borland. I was sold on their value.

  • Maps help people to visualize this abstract concept which is the network.
  • If you do regular updates, people can see how they strengthen over time — turning that squishy relationship-building from time that might feel wasted to a visible, valuable outcome.
  • Maps make invisible information visible. You can see people’s interests. You can see whether people with shared interests know one another. You can uncover expertise.

Applying Network Mapping

When I started working with NEWHAB, I was lucky my budget could cover network mapping. I wanted to have a tool to measure our progress, to see where I could make introductions, to show members our network.

NEWHAB has baseline and updated maps, and we can see the network getting stronger and more connected!

2015 and 2016 maps

My Favorite Spells

I can use the same map ingredients to conjure up many network spells.

Network Directory

The maps are online and interactive. The map is members’ network “Directory.” People can use it to find one another by interest, expertise, geography, or for any reason. Each year, NEWHAB hosts a workshop that includes a tour of the directory and an introduction on how to use it.

Staff Intelligence

With a bit more training, staff can use filters and other search tools to dig into the data for daily work. It simplifies personalized activity outreach, showing who is interested in which activities. It shows useful places to make member-to-member introductions (closing triangles). It’s perfect when someone is seeking specific expertise. It also highlights the topics generating energy in the network, so activities can be designed to harness and grow that energy.

Evaluation Short-cut

As long as there are regular updates, the maps are an effective evaluation tool. It gathers data to evaluate network development, strengths and where more work is needed. It runs metrics that measure changes from year-to-year, as well as offering visualizations that help people see the changes. It can also track specific achievements – like NEWHAB’s goal of creating more cross-sector connections.

Trust Symbol

I like that members can access it, although I don’t expect many will. It’s a symbol of transparency within the network, accessible to members any time.

Tangible Abstractions

The visual image of the map helps members “see” the network. It takes an abstract concept that sounds cool but maybe intangible into a space where “Jim” can suddenly see he’s only two steps away from “Jolene.”

Maybe the map isn’t actually magical, but with so many useful powers, it feels like an extensive book of spells for my work.


Potion Ingredients

Mapping Consultants & Software

Mapping is not difficult, but it’s not a technical skill I have. Rather than spend many hours learning how and making beginners errors, we hired a mapping consultant, Patti Anklam. She generated maps from the data using mapping software.

About halfway through 2015, I realized the limitations of the data being trapped in software I couldn’t explore for myself. Christine Capra showed me an interactive map tool, kumu that I thought would be better at engaging members. Working with Patti, she imported our 2015 data and we used it to analyze our 2016 data. We also built in tools to make it easy for people to find what they were looking for.

Data & Data Collection

Our survey asked about personal connections, areas of expertise, and what people want to work on. We also asked about geography and invited feedback on the network. Patti helped us design our first survey to make best use of the mapping. We worded our questions carefully, and used the same questions in both years so we could compare apples to apples.

A key part of getting the data was the personal outreach of key leaders in the network to invite network members to respond. The maps are only as good as the data, and if people don’t respond there are big gaps you don’t notice in the maps. With a concerted personalized effort, NEWHAB achieved a 92% response rate from members and a 68% response rate from active allies.


How have you used social network maps in your work?

2 replies
  1. Mary Roscoe
    Mary Roscoe says:


    Thank you for the very clear and brief description of the value of network mapping — this is helpful. My initial interest in mapping was making the invisible visible and creating a picture of an ecosystem. And I also feel grateful to June, Ken, and Christine for their help.

    • Janne Flisrand
      Janne Flisrand says:

      Another wonderful story: One of our network members expressed guilt that he wasn’t engaging as much as he should with the network. I looked at the metrics for HIM, and showed him how dramatically his engagement level had increased his own connection in the network, and shared it was just that sort of change we were aiming for. He was surprised, and seemed to feel free to let the guilt go.

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