Strong social impact networks are often a critical component of systemic change efforts related to collective action, movement building, advocacy and policy change, social capital development, and leadership initiatives of varying scales. Philanthropies, nonprofits, and other actors who are interested in engaging in these long-term change efforts frequently employ network formation and growth as a cornerstone strategy. Evaluating the health, impact, and durability of networks is critical to both understanding network value, and informing the improvements and necessary supports over time toward scaling and maximizing social impact.
Through our work evaluating networks we’ve found that regardless of the length of time the network has been operating, its purpose or its construction, the evaluation questions of interest fall into three groups: what the network looks like, how the network operates, and how the network’s efforts lead to impact. Organizing a network evaluation along these lines helps not only to focus the evaluation, but also leads to highly actionable results that link the evaluation of the network to its primary purpose. Our approach to network analysis and evaluation is organized around these three elements and grounded in network and systems-change theory.
Every network, partnership, and coalition is different. It’s no surprise that the size, type, and purpose of the network have implications for its evaluation. We’ve developed and tested a set of tools that work for a variety of evaluations and that we customize for each project and client. Our goal in every case is to customize an evaluation approach that gives a rich picture and is action oriented.
Our data collection approaches include online surveys, phone and in-person interviews, and group mapping. Depending on your network, we’ll choose the data collection method that will result in the highest participation of your network members. We’ll employ a variety of software tools including statistical, various visualization, and qualitative data coding packages. Our analysis almost always includes some mix of qualitative and quantitative approaches. By using a variety of analytical processes we get a richer picture of what’s happening in your network. Last but not least, we take a utilization-focused approach to visualization to make results most actionable for your organization.