11.4.1 What is Social Network Analysis (SNA)?

Social Network Analysis theory produces an alternate view, where the attributes of individuals are seen as less important than their relationships and ties with other actors. SNA is the mapping and measuring of relationships and flows between people, groups, computers, web sites and other knowledge processing entities.

Taking also into consideration that knowledge and especially its most important element, tacit knowledge1, is mainly socially constructed through frequent meetings, conversations, etc., SNA tools aim to analyze and then depict several patterns of social behavior which are very much related to tacit knowledge management2.

The nodes in the network are the people and groups (actors) while the links show relationships or flows between the nodes (ties). SNA provides both a visual and mathematical analysis of human relationships3. It is based on the assumption of the importance of relationships among interacting units4. As a result, SNA assumes that people are interdependent. This approach has turned out to be useful in explaining many real-world phenomena.

The focus on interdependence means that SNA can ask –and answer- questions such as:

  • Is Sales effectively communicating with Marketing to share and coordinate information about the customer?
  • When two companies or organisations merge, how can management use the informal network to spread important messages?
  • In R&D group, are there enough people bringing in ideas from outside and are those ideas being acted upon?5

Along with growing interest and increased use of network analysis has come a consensus about the central principles underlying the network analysis perspective. In addition to the use of relational concepts, we note the following as being important:

  • Actors and their actions are viewed as interdependent rather than independent.
  • Relational ties (linkages) between actors are channels for transfer or “flow” of resources (either material or nonmaterial).
  • Network models focusing on individuals view the network structural environment as providing opportunities for or constraints on individual action
  • Network models conceptualize structure (social, economic, political and so forth) as lasting patterns of relations among actors6

The aim of this is mainly to explain the major concepts and business benefits to be gained from using SNA tools in organisations, as well as their application to business problems.  

1 Tacit knowledge: Refers to a knowledge which is only known by an individual and that is often difficult to communicate to the rest of an organization. Knowledge that is easy to communicate is often called explicit knowledge. Tacit knowledge has been described as “know-how” (as opposed to “know-what” [facts], “know-why” [science] and "know-who"[networking]). It involves learning and skill but generally not in a way that can be written down.
2 www.trainmor-knowmore.eu
3 http://www.orgnet.com/sna.html
4 http://lrs.ed.uiuc.edu/tse-portal/analysis/social-network-analysis/

6 Kristina Groth, ‘Using Social Networks for knowledge Management’.