posted 28 Aug 2007 in Volume 11 Issue 1
Author: Patti Anklam
Review by Graeme Burton
Human networks are everywhere. Literally. We network at work (obviously); within the companies and industries that we work in; among various sets of friends; with family. Each network adds value: to our lives; to the organisations that we work for; for society (hopefully). Frequently, some of those networks will intersect – adding even more value.
Social-network analysis, as the broad discipline of examining such networks for organisational understanding and advantage is called, is not new. Indeed, Anklam – also the author of the Ark Group special report, The Social-Network Toolkit – is without doubt one of the pioneers of the discipline.
In Net Work, Anklam broadens her approach to social-network analysis, a term she tries to avoid these days in favour of what she calls ‘net work’, which she breaks down into three different types.
First, there is organisational network analysis. This is a method, based on social-network analysis, for collecting relational information about people and organisations. This can be analysed statistically and presented visually using software. It provides an insight into the structural qualities of a network and gives both visual and data-derived views of the current state of relationships in the network.
Second, is value-network analysis. This is a participative method that elicits information from stakeholders in a network about the tangible and intangible exchanges of value between and among them. It provides an insight into the dynamics of value exchanges in a network. Oliver Schwabe, in particular, is closely associated with the value-network approach.
Finally, there is complexity-based sensemaking, which Anklam describes as “a framework and methods that draw on complexity theory to generate distinctions between the complex and the non-complex to generate insights and aid in problem solving”. This is something that David Snowden will no doubt tackle in greater depth in his long overdue debut book.
Having broken down the subject into those three main spheres, Anklam starts delving into some real detail, demonstrating how they can be applied in different situations.
In the process, she covers much ground, from community and culture all the way through to leadership and leadership styles. This is certainly a broader tome than the more technical approach of The Social-Network Toolkit.
One of Anklam’s key assertions – drawing on work by Verna Allee – is that all networks, both tangible and intangible, add value.
Take the network behind the open-source operating system Linux, for example. “[The] source code itself is a tangible product that the network delivers… Companies that use the code in their own products are receiving tangible value in the form of that source code.”
But there is intangible value created, too, including the enhancement of knowledge, as well as furthering knowledge about working in such an extended way over the internet.
“The stated purpose of a network provides an attractor; members and potential partners are drawn to it based on how it articulates that purpose and who and what it serves,” writes Anklam.
A major strength of Anklam’s work is the copious number of case studies and real-world examples, such as that of SocialPhysics. This is the open collaborative project of a company called Parity, which is developing a software framework called ‘Higgins’ that is intended to give individuals more control over their digital identities.
Through various conversations, it gained an affiliation with the Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Law & Society and the Eclipse enterprise software-tools development community, because the project was of interest to both.
In the process, people at software vendor Novell and computer giant IBM heard about the SocialPhysics project, felt that it was critical to some of their work and both companies joined in, promising to contribute code to it as well.
Ultimately, the work on Higgins will benefit all the various stakeholders engaged in the project, “but it could not produce value without the clarity of purpose that has attracted the best minds in the computer industry to solve an important problem,” writes Anklam.
Such examples provide just a small flavour of the book. It carefully provides both technical information on the subject matter with information grounded in the real world – it is not, thankfully, a dry ‘school textbook’ dealing solely in the theoretical. And that helps make an otherwise complex subject much easier to absorb and a valuable read for anyone involved in knowledge management.
Graeme Burton is the managing editor of Inside Knowledge. He can be contacted by e-mailing email@example.com.