10 Mar Mapping the WLZ Network #1: Theory
By Miranda Magee, Data Analyst Intern
This is the first in a series of three blogs where WLZ will discuss the work it is currently undertaking on network mapping.
If West London Zone is successful in achieving the outcomes it is working towards with children and young people in our area, we hope we might also contribute to a wider system change in West London. Although organisations do good work in individual cases, it can be difficult to enact and evidence system or community-level change to address complex problems, especially if organisations don’t work together.
West London Zone aims to build capacity for collective impact in West London. We want to help all agencies in the community collectively work towards a common goal – that is, help young people thrive and reach their full potential.
A key step in enacting this system-level change and providing evidence that it is happening, however, is understanding how the system currently operates. To help us conceptualise the network in operation in West London, in early 2017 we began work on a network mapping project, which will ultimately produce a visual representation of all the organisations West London Zone works with and the relationships that links these organisations together.
We started the process by looking at what other organisations have done in this space. For instance, to illustrate what we mean by “network mapping”, see the example below produced by the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA). This shows the MASS MoCA’s “Primary Network”, consisting of the organisations in the community with which the museum has direct links.
However, learning about network mapping from previous studies proved to be rather tricky. Not only was it difficult to find in-depth reports to draw from, many were for academic use only and inaccessible to us.
In the end, we found four reports of use. After reading them, it became apparent that the main difficulty in network mapping was defining relationship boundaries – i.e. how many degrees of separation until an organisation/person is not considered to be in a network. Further difficulties were vagueness about relationships and a lack of categorisation of the different types of relationships between organisations; the limitations of defining communities solely on geographical location also means key actors might be excluded making the network map itself a misrepresentation.
Despite the limited nature of these studies, we could identify several learnings for our own network map. For instance, the reports used for research did not focus on specific types of relationship between organisations, only whether they existed or not; for the West London Zone network map, distinct and well-defined relationships will be studied to allow other organisations in the network to not only see whether they are linked to others but also how they are linked. We will also not base the network map exclusively on our geographical area so as not to restrict who is involved. Some of WLZ’s partners have their head offices or central hubs outside of the West London Zone area, even though they work in the Zone, so not to include them would inaccurately represent the network.
This knowledge gathering process was useful in providing background, context and a framework for WLZ’s network mapping. It has helped to inform how WLZ will measure and visualise our network. In the next post in this series, we will go into more depth regarding how we have constructed the network map.
 Two of the four studies that were used and looked at in detail came from the Young Foundation – ‘On The Ground: Barnet Community Mapping Pilot’ (http://youngfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/BARNET-COMMUNITY-MAPPING-final-150703.pdf )and ‘Mapping Social Networks to Improve Service Delivery’ (http://youngfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Mapping-social-networks-to-improve-public-service-deliery.pdf ). The other two came from the Centre for Creative Community Development – ‘Network Analysis and the Social Impact of Cultural Arts Organisations’ (https://web.williams.edu/Economics/ArtsEcon/library/pdfs/NA%20Network%20Paper%20010807.pdf ) and the Royal Society of encouragement of Arts – ‘Connected Communities: How Social Networks Power and Sustain the Big Society’ (http://www.climateaccess.org/sites/default/files/Rowson_Connected%20Communities.pdf.