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Mapping Q: Social network analysis pilots, pitfalls and potential

Find out how Q is using network mapping and some pointers from what we've learned so far that you can apply to your own mapping.

We are piloting a new approach to social network analysis to take our understanding of Q members and the connections between them to the next level. To do this, we’re using Sumapp and Kumu software. And crucially, we are aiming to both systematically measure and better facilitate connections between members by:

  • Supporting individual map members to build connections and collaborate. The pilot maps allow members to identify those with shared interests or complimentary skills and then use the profile information to make contact and work together. (We hope this will build on what we offer through our existing Member Directory, and help us learn how we may develop that.)
  • Assessing the strengths (and weaknesses) of the network. The pilot maps allow for detailed analysis on the nature and number of connections. As well as helping evaluation, this understanding supports network leaders to identify key players, pinpoint flourishing hubs and find areas that need further support to develop.

The pilot approach

This year we are undertaking pilots with three sub-networks within Q. We are working with partners to co-design the map content and to test the uptake, use and value of this approach to mapping. We want the pilots to be valuable in themselves, but we also have one eye on the potential of a future Q-wide social network map.

The maps are made up of two building blocks:

  • Member profiles: their role, background, skills, interests, assets, and most importantly, contact information
  • Connection data: detailing exactly how map members have connected with other individuals.

Members can filter this information to present the map in the most meaningful way for their purposes.

The three pilot maps are:

  • The Network Weaver map (running from March 2021 – August 2021). Exclusively for the 36 full-series participants, this tracked and supported collaborations across the cohort.
  • Allied Health Professionals in Quality Improvement map (launched July 2021). In partnership with Q’s AHP in QI network, this focuses on the skills and experience that network members are looking for support with and can offer to others.
  • Q community Ireland map (launching September 2021). In partnership with the Health Services Executive, this maps the interests of those involved in health care quality improvement in Ireland. If you’re based in Ireland, join the map ahead of its wider launch.

Image of the Q Ireland Network Map, showing both a view of connected profiles and the map of Ireland showing the spread of users.

What have we learnt?

The pilots are just getting started but thanks to the commitment and pioneering spirit of partners, we have already learnt a lot. If you’re considering mapping too – here are four things we recommend you consider:

  1. Invest time in co-design
    Involving map users in shaping map content has boosted engagement for us. We found that map co-design was more meaningful after some light-touch training.
  2. Follow good data protection practice
    Partners and users flagged concerns on this throughout co-design. Rigorous processes and consent protocols are important, as is communicating these well to reduce any concerns. At the Health Foundation, we have formally reviewed and approved the privacy and data policies of Sumapp and Kumu.
  3. Embed the map in existing activities as much as possible
    Participation in the map needs to be regularly promoted through communications, including through network champions and by building it into events. We achieved this to some extent through the Network Weaving series but our experience suggests even more of this is necessary to drive high engagement.
  4. Accept the limitations of the software
    Sumapp and Kumu offer a brilliant live, searchable map with built-in metrics. Yet, they have particular limits around survey functionality and the flexibility of map visualisation for different user needs. Plus, they don’t wholly overcome the age-old challenge of encouraging people to enter and update their data.

Example of an anonymised network map from Kumu

Resources and next steps

Word got out fast! We have been inundated with requests for more information and support for applying network mapping to Q Special Interest Groups, regional networks and beyond. So, if you want to learn more or give it a go yourself here are some resources you might find helpful and some ways to keep in touch:

Once we have completed the pilots, we will share more learning with you. Keep an eye out early next year for updates.

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