What We Learned from a Social Network Analysis of USAID Learning Lab Users

Jan 11, 2018 by Matthew Baker, Ian Lathrop Comments (0)
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When you have a work-related question, where do you go? Do you consult a favorite blog? A technical journal or publication? Or do you turn to a trusted colleague?

USAID Learning Lab is a trusted resource for USAID staff and partners to access and contribute to a growing collection of tools and resources on integrating collaborating, learning and adapting (CLA) throughout the USAID Program Cycle.

As we work to curate CLA resources for USAID Learning Lab users, we were curious to find out where else they go for information related to their work.

So, we decided to conduct a social network analysis to understand how our users are connected to other resources and to each other. If USAID Learning Lab was not their go-to source of information, we wanted to know what is.  

Subscribers to the USAID Learning Lab newsletter, Learning Matters, may remember the three-question survey we sent in September 2017. We asked:

1. What sources do you rely on first to obtain information related to your job or work?

  • Books, Magazines, or Journals
  • Websites/Blogs
  • Individual People
  • Social Media
  • Other (Please specify)

2. What sources do you rely on second to obtain information related to your job or work?

  • Books, Magazines, or Journals
  • Websites/Blogs
  • Individual People
  • Social Media
  • Other (Please specify)

We received responses from 200 individuals representing 134 organizations, including USAID. This sample size, which is relatively small, indicates that results are not statistically significant. Even so, the responses we did receive are certainly suggestive.

Here’s what we learned:

Finding #1: Websites/Blogs and Individual People are the two most commonly cited sources of information.

Finding #2 - Internal colleagues were the most mentioned category of individual people while Google, USAID Learning Lab, Devex and LinkedIn were the most cited websites.

We mapped out the information sources and calculated a quick score of how many people used them. To do this we calculated the number of connections that each type of information source had to respondents - the technical name for this statistic is “degrees” and measures how central or important a source of information is. Internal colleagues were the highest scoring source of information. This might be due to the higher accessibility of these individuals as well as having the ability to provide the most salient information in question.

Unsurprisingly, Google was the most frequently mentioned website for information, followed by USAID Learning Lab (we didn’t make this up!). Devex and LinkedIn were also popular websites, although many respondents listed LinkedIn under their response to individual people. It appears that often LinkedIn is go-to place to find out where people are working, what their past experience is and then use the platform to contact them; this suggests that online connections may lead to in person sharing of information. The most frequently mentioned blog was Duncan Green’s From Poverty to Power. Also notable is the Harvard Business Review, which is not a traditional development publication but demonstrates that development practitioners also learn from other sectors. Note: For more on learning about adaptive management from business see this blog. USAID staff mentioned two additional information sources: Internal Agency policy and ProgramNet, an internal USAID knowledge management platform.

Top 15 Information Sources

Count of number of connections

Internal colleague

96

Google

28

USAID Learning Lab

24

All / Various

23

devex.com

22

LinkedIn

19

External colleague

18

Internal KM Platform

15

usaid.gov

13

Twitter

11

Harvard Business Review

10

World Bank

10

American Evaluation Association

9

betterevaluation.org

9

From Poverty to Power (Duncan Green's blog)

9

So, how do we intend to use this information? Well, when we first conceived of this idea, we expected the exercise to yield a detailed, interconnected web illustrating how our readers are connected to one another and which sources were the most popular. We had hoped that we could then partner with those highly connected individuals and popular resources to amplify our messages. But, the bulk of respondents preferred not to disclose individual names.

Our social network analysis was not for naught, however. It reaffirmed what we often hear, which is that most people first go to their colleagues and trusted peers for information. We were also able to validate our assumption that USAID Learning Lab is a valuable (and used!) resource for the people on our email list.

Are you interested in trying a social network analysis? Click here to learn more about it.

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