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Networks Analysis


Network analysis consists of theories, methodologies and tools used to understand the set of connections and relations among people in a community or other units such as organizations, regions or nations. The network analysis field is represented by a professional association (the International Network for Social Network Analysis, INSNA), a newsletter (Connections), and flagship journal Social Networks. The INSNA homepage address is:

Networks are most often used to represent who knows whom or who talks to whom within a community or organization and shows how these relations influence human behaviour. The central insight provided by network analysis is that individuals are connected to other persons and that these connections create a structure which helps us understand behaviour. For example, a highly centralized community may be more effective at organizing a community mobilization project aimed at sanitizing existing water sources.

One useful application that has emerged from the network field has been the use of network techniques to implement educational and health promotion programs and campaigns. Valente has developed the opinion leadership model in which opinion leaders are identified within a community and these leaders are trained to be ambassadors for health messages. Since the leaders are recognized by the community, their high levels of credibility improve the audience's reception of the messages and stimulate more rapid diffusion of the health behaviour being promoted.

For information on resources relating to networks please see OHPE 44.2

Submitted by: Thomas W. Valente, Ph.D., Department of Population Dynamics, SPH/JHU, 615 N. Wolfe St., Room 4033, Baltimore MD 21205,, phone: (410) 955-7819, fax: (410) 955-0792, homepage:


In a community, identifying and communicating with opinion leaders is challenging. It is something best done with a well-planned strategy and an understanding of the different persons in place. There can be a relatively small number in a community, and although key opinion leaders are often "early adopters" of some new value or innovation, some can become marginalized for it. They need support and information.

How do you identify them?

In the local media their names come up often. Look for the people who are listened to. Often the community action/volunteer centre can identify these people. Opinion leaders tend to have a higher socioeconomic status, and are involved in community issues. People in positions of authority, or business entrepreneurs (banking, real estate) are commonly opinion leaders in communities. There are some effective, systematic ways to discover opinion leaders within a particular network, such as tracking communication contacts for a brief period of time.

Psychographic and Behavioural Aspects: Opinion Leaders usually have a vested interest, and let their values lead. They are people with "agendas" or passions about something, not just something personal. They are people with a desire to be involved, often through service club membership and participation.

How Opinion Leaders Work: the more integrated a community, the more quickly a dominant public opinion becomes widespread and the easier it is to affect an outcome; there must be enough public messages regarding an "opinion" for the silent agreer to speak out; later adopters are usually near peers of opinion leaders

Based on: Valente, T. Network Models of Diffusion of Innovations (1997), and Personal Communication, Susanne Christie, Chair of the Volunteer Assoc. of Ontario, Aug, 97.

- submitted by Lorraine Telford, THCU, Fax: 416-971-2433;,

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Here is just one practical application of network analysis to health promotion interventions-identifying and working with opinion leaders. These are people who can significantly influence the rate of adoption of an innovation (how quickly a new idea gets picked up). Once these people are identified, they've been found to adopt new innovations sooner and then bring them to others-people referred to as 'opinion followers' (Valente). In this way, workplace champions or opinion leaders are important sources of interpersonal communication about health matters. And, as we know, interpersonal communication can be one of the most important forms of communication when people are considering behaviour change.

The following information was adapted from Harnessing the Energy of SummerActive Champions, SummerActive '98. This tip sheet was the result of a collaboration between THCU & OPHEA through a consultation with ParticipACTION. We thank Elizabeth Pawliw-Fry & Nancy Dubois for their work and Tom Valente for his assistance.

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i. Tips For Identifying Champions

Who walks at lunch? Goes to the gym after work? Has lost weight or quit smoking? If you don't know, try a quick survey.

But don't ask if anyone wants to coordinate an event (a definite turnoff), just find out who's interested; look for problem solvers - a counsellor, the computer expert, the planner. Check out your own networks and don't feel guilty about it! Interpersonal communication is essential to behaviour change.

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ii. Getting Opinion Leaders Involved

Now that you've identified potential champions, time to get them involved. Consider different 'hooks' depending on what motivates them-achievement, power or affiliation:

Achievement Motivated People: want to experience success where high performance is required; are concerned with results, striving for personal best, goal setting, risk taking; like challenge and working

alone; can use innovative approaches to get tasks done and see successful completion as a personal achievement; give them the opportunity to gain new skills like working with the media, making flyers or presentations; watch they don't try to take on the whole thing themselves.

Power Motivated People: want to have an impact on or influence others; try to shape opinion and change things; exercise power to benefit others; have concern for position /respect /reputation; may be charismatic but also verbally aggressive, forceful; can advocate and recruit; watch they don't "put people off" with their zealous approach.

Affiliation Motivated People: want to be with others, to enjoy mutual friendships; like to seek out relationships and work with others; are sensitive to feelings /needs; support others in achieving goals; will support a committee approach to planning; watch that the planning process doesn't take so long they lose interest.

Tips For Recruiting Champions: find out what motivates them - achievement, power or affiliation; ask about other activities they're involved in and what "hooked" them. Look for a similar hook in your

program; go for a mix of affiliation, achievement and power people in any given setting. Power people can lead, achievement people can focus on getting the job done, and affiliation people can recruit.

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iii. Helping Your Champions Along the Way

Make their job as easy as possible. Supply camera-ready art (both hard and electronic copies) for flyers, posters, etc. Give ideas based on the success of other communities. Suggest prizes that fit with your program's theme.

Tips For Supporting Your Champions

Achievement Motivated People: provide concrete feedback along the way; leave them alone to do the job; don't pester them: give deadlines; involve them in key decision-making

Power Motivated People: provide clear guidelines and stick to them; give opportunity to work with other "power brokers" (i.e., media exposure); involve them in key decision-making

Affiliation Motivated People: assure them of available caring support; be ready for long chats and providing advice; avoid conflict situations; check in with others - they may not report problems

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iv. When It is All Over

What do the Champions Get Out of Being Involved? :

materials to help them do what they are already doing;

data to help them to what they are doing better.

Give Champions Credit for their Involvement:

Once your successful program or campaign is over, be sure to thank each champion. This will leave them feeling good (and more likely to participate again in the future).

Achievement people appreciate:

- a certificate;

- calendars and daytimers;

- a formal thank you letter for their resume.

Power people appreciate:

- public recognition - their name in the company bulletin, or in the "Letters to the Editor";

- a plaque or certificate they can display in their home or office;

- letter of thanks that also goes to their supervisor;

- being asked to take on a leadership role in the future.

Affiliation people appreciate:

- a group photo;

- a social gathering after the event;

- a thank you call and chat

- submitted by: THCU, Fax: 416-971-2443;,

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The recent THCU workshop on How Networks Influence Health, presented by Dr. Tom Valente (John Hopkins University), was a great success, and left people wanting even more. THCU plans to move to the next step by supporting local applications of network theory.

To this end, we are seeking individuals and groups willing to plan, review or evaluate interventions aimed at either changing networks, or diffusing innovations within networks.

This would entail:

1. developing a theory of how the intervention would work, including factors influencing the change

2. defining the network to be changed

3. measuring the network

4. identifying opinion leaders within the network

5. engaging/enrolling the leaders to act as diffusion leaders

6. preparing the opinion leaders (training, materials, etc)

7. supporting the opinion leaders throughout the implementation

8. measuring changes within the network

We plan to hold a one-day event where the above model will be elaborated, and examples reviewed. The day will allow time to work out new Ontario applications of this approach. We are particularly looking for participants who are committed to working on new applications or enhancing current efforts, as well as those willing to offer advice and encouragement.

Dr. Valente and staff of THCU will be able to offer support during and after this consultation-based event.

This day will proceed only if we have enough real-life examples to take through the network analysis process. Any takers?

Please contact: The Health Communication Unit, Fax: 416-971-2443, Email:,