Social networks assignment

What can you learn about a group from examining its communication patterns? Social network analysis is concerned with how group structure emerges from the relations among individuals. This assignment is designed to give you experience with collecting social network data, tools for viewing the communication patterns and other relationship in a group that you know about and with drawing inferences from these patterns. The paper by Sam Swift, a student in Organizational Communication in a prior year, is an insightful analysis that uses social network techniques to learn something new about a group.In this assignment, you will be using a  social networking visualization tool to make sense of some social network data. You should collect your own social network data and will generally get a higher grade. However, it is possible to download a dataset that has already been collected by someone else. Collecting your own data is more time consuming, but gives you context and helps you understand why particular network structures emerge. Here are some possibilities if you are collecting your own:  First, and the best option is to create a questionnaire in which you give respondents a roster of other people in their group and ask them about their relationship with each of them. The gist of the assignment is to use a social network visualization package, such as one of the ones described below, to make a non-obvious observation about the relationship among people in the social network you are analyzing.  The steps you will follow are outlined below:

    1. Download a software package for doing social network analyses.  Consider Gephi, which works on both a Mac and PC. It is a little harder to learn than NodeXL, but more powerful. A Gephi download is available at https://gephi.org/users/download/ and a quick-start tutorial is at https://gephi.org/users/quick-start/ and http://www.martingrandjean.ch/gephi-introduction/. Other options include NodeXL (PC only), SocNetV,  GUESS or Pajek. SovNetV and GUESS can run on Macs. All are excellent software tools for visualizing social networks. You can also use a 60-day trial version of UCINet. This is also available only for a Windows PC.   A large, annotated list of appropriate software is at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_network_analysis_software.  
    2. Select a group
      1. The best option is to select a group of people who have some common purpose (i.e., a living group, a club, a department in an organization, the purchasing function in a retail store, etc.)  Pick a group that you know a lot about. Make a list of the relevant people. You should include members of the group and a few key contacts outside the group whom they communicate with (e.g., members of a fraternity and a few members of the Interfraternity Council; purchasing agents in a retail store and some vendors they buy from). You can do a more interesting analysis if you compare two different groups from the same domain (e.g., ethnic groups in a class, men and women in an organization or officers and members of a fraternity).  Alternatively, you can compare two different social network measues (e.g., "how much do you like person X?" and "how likely are your to ask person X advice about an assignment?").  In order to make things a little more interesting, you can also collect attribute information. For example, you can collect information on gender, year in school, or the average frequency of communication and then see if these attributes help explain some of the patterns of connections observed in the data. You can add attribute data and map to node color or size in Gephi or NodeXL.
      2. There are some external datasets at  https://github.com/gephi/gephi/wiki/Dataset. By using an external data set, you will be doing less work, will probably not have sufficient information about context and will probably learn less than if you collect your own data.  Therefore, the maximum grade you can achieve with this option is a B-. 
    1. If you are collecting your data from groups, get people in the group to identify the other people they have relationships with. In this assignment, you have to decide what kinds of relationships you want to explore. For example, you can ask whether people talk to each other about work or personal issues, whether they are working on a project together, whether they like each other, whether they are friends, if they go out together, if they are in the same classes or if they belong to the same political party. To make things simple, you can ask questions that can be answered with a single yes or no (e.g., Are you and Y friends?). Alternatively, you can ask quesitons requiring continuous judgments and then dicotomize them later (e.g., How much does Y help help you?). Both Gephi and NodeXL can show the strength of relationships.
    2. Process and visualize your data
      1. You will process your data using one of the visualization packages listed. NodeXl is probably the easiest to use and has reasonable documentation. Gelphi is also a good choice with good documentation. The details of how to visualize your data depend upon the software package you choose.  There is a The NodeXL Tutorial, which introduces some of its core capabilities  using a few simple datasets. There is also a tutorial for for Gelphi.  In both NodeXL and Gelphi, you can translate the attributes of nodes to visual features. For example, you can set the size of the node to reflect some centrality measure or the color to represent some trait, like gender or leadership-status.  Setting these visual attributes will help you make sense of the network.
    3. Select the most interesting visualizations and write a report.

Select the visualizations that clearly describe the group on the basis of the attributes that you have created or the story that you . What do these sociograms tell you about the group? Do these sociograms confirm or disconfirm what you thought about the group structure?Your report on this assignment will be a powerpoint or Google presentation combined with the notes describing each slide. Your presentation will have four sections, the first providing background on the group, the second describing your methods (e.g., number of people, attributes of the people you think are important, the measures you used to link two people),  the third showing one or more network visualization that showing something interesting about the group and the fourth a discussion suggesting how you might use the social network visualization to improve something about the group or how to operate in it.  For each slide provide a detailed notes section so that the slide is interpretable on its own.  That is, the note section will write out what you would say in an oral presentation. (A) Describe the group in a narrative form. What is its function? Who is in it? Provide sufficient context, so that the network graphs make sense.(B) Describe your methods. What data did you collect about the group and its members to construct your social network?(C) Use the network graphs to to point out something interesting about the group and to make a non-obvious observation about it. Include the network plots with and without attributes in the event that attributes help explain some of the structure you observed. Some questions you can ask of your plots are the following (depending on the attributes you may have collected).

  • Are there cliques in the group? What is their basis?
  • Can you identify the important people? How does the identification of importance based on network position accord with other things you know about the group?
  • Who do people go to for advice? How do you know that from the graph? Why do they make these decisions.
  • Are there gatekeepers in the group? How did they get that way?
  • Is the advice network different for different topics?
  • Are work relationships parallel to or different from the social relationships?
  • Are communication patterns similar across different communication channels -- e.g., in person, email, Facebook or phone?
  • Are there splits in the group? What are their basis?

(D). Use your knowledge of the structure of the group to suggest ways of improving the group.  For example,

  • Are the right people communicating with each other? If you were trying to improve the way the group operated, would you add or remove any of the links in the sociogram (i.e., increase or decrease any particular relationships)?
  • Is the informal power in the group appropriately aligned with the formal hierarchy? Can you suggest changes to the alignment?
  • Does the group have sufficient links with people outside it to perform effectively? Who should be talking to whom?

 This  "improvement" section is optional, since not every group has problems that need improvement.This assignment can be done individually or in groups of two. If you are doing this assignment in groups of two – compare two networks.You will be giving a short (<= 7 minute) presentation of your analysis in class on Dec 7 and turn in your slide deck by midnight on Dec 8thResources for social network analysis

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