Informal Networks from Movements

I’m looking for  academics/practionaires interested in the following research  and for companies willing to give me access to relevant data ;-) My website. My email: d.quercia@cs.ucl.ac.uk.

To facilitate the flow of information or to promote cultural change, companies often focus on formal organizational charts. Alas, those charts do not reveal the invisible networks that employees use to get things done. One way of identifying invisible networks is to keep track of how staff moves and, more specifically, “who talks to whom”. This can be done automatically by programming mobile phones to keep track of their owners’ location and proximity to other people.  By aggregating data on those phones, one  then produces “informal networks” and can harness them to:

  • Make change stick by identifying influential employees. If management can persuade influential people to be proponent of a big change, then the change is far more likely to succeed.
  • Focus on points in an informal network where relationships should be expanded or reduced. Imagine that, from its informal network, a company finds out that old personnel are extraordinary well-connected and central to collaboration, while many newcomers are stuck on the periphery. To fix the situation, the company may launch “mentoring programs” in which old personnel (central to collaboration) mentor newcomers. That is just one example of how the study of informal networks can break down barriers that hinder collaboration.
  • Measure the effectiveness of major initiatives. Informal networks are also a way for companies to measure the impact of changes. By measuring key network metrics (such as density, cohesion, and centrality) before and after a change, companies can asses whether the change has been a positive one. For example, if an informal network shows higher density after introducing a mentoring program, then the program has been a positive change in that it has reduced the number of steps for any individual to get in touch with a colleague.

12 Responses to “Informal Networks from Movements”

  1. Stuart Smith says:

    Daniel

    Read about this on Dave Snowdens blog

    Drop me an email about this, I may be able to help

    Regards
    Stuart
    CEO
    Wood Holmes Group

  2. Hi Daniel

    In response to Dave Snowden’s tweet:

    In case you’re not familiar with Valdis Krebs’ work: http://www.orgnet.com and his team blog at http://www.networkweaving.com/blog/.

    I am about to purchase/be trained in/use their networking software for use in my consulting work and doctoral research.

    Get in touch if this connection suits what you’re looking for.

    cheers
    Marigo

  3. Stuart, Marigo, thanks for your help!

  4. Irene Lopez de Vallejo says:

    Hi Daniele!
    I’m doing my PhD in measuring duration and location of informal face-to-face interaction. I’d be happy to discuss this. I.

  5. Eric Platon says:

    Hi Daniele,

    Following the thread and your post on LinkedIn, I have some remarks and pointers.

    First, the very idea to track people and check over continuous time who does what with whom is simply scary in terms of privacy. I would resign from a company that does that openly. Said that, here are some more scientific pointers.

    - David Hales @ Delft University of Technology may be interested in the topic, from a different but seemingly compatible standpoint.
    - Bernardo Hubermann @ HP wrote interesting papers, notably about the community of practice, where the overlooked weaknesses of a formal organization is compensated by an informal one, naturally, by human interactions. His web page:
    http://www.hpl.hp.com/research/idl/people/huberman/
    The paper I am referring to:
    “Communities of Practice: Performance and Evolution”, (with Tad Hogg),
    Computational and Mathematical Organization Theory, Vol. 1, 73-92 (1995).

    Despite the remark on privacy, it looks great topic!

    Cheers,
    Éric

  6. Thanks, Eric! As for privacy, I agree with you but it shouldn’t be that black and white ;-)

  7. Matteo Dell'Amico says:

    Did you have a look at SocioPatterns.org?

  8. Matteo, thanks – that’s something I didn’t know about, and it looks on spot. Let’s see if I manage to meet Ciro in Torino at the end of this month…

  9. Dear Daniele,

    I am the principal investigator of a small research group in Torino, that is active in the area of networking and distributed applications. Actually, we are focusing on social networking as well as collaborative filtering, recommendation systems, and Peer-to-Peer network. You can look at one of our applications coming from some of our results at http://dehinter.di.unito.it/index.html
    If you are you planning to visit Ciro in Torino, we can also organize a meeting on such a subject, because it is of interest for us (including privacy related issues).

  10. Ciao Giancarlo, thanks for your comment! Your group’s research looks quite interesting, and we (mobisyser) do strongly related stuff – check this blog out ;-) Plus, privacy is a thorny problem in these settings. I’ll be in Torino at the end of the month – I have just scheduled a talk at PoliTO, but I’d love to squeeze in some time for discussing SocioPatterns and any other similar project. My email is d.quercia@cs.ucl.ac.uk. Cheers!

  11. Ciro Cattuto says:

    Ciao Daniele! As Matteo and Giancarlo have pointed out, here at the ISI in Torino we recently started up a new research line about mining patterns of social contact using active RFID. We rewrote the firmware of the OpenBeacon tags (http://www.openbeacon.org/) in order to have reliable detection of face-to-face interaction with a good spatial (~1m) and temporal (~10s) accuracy. We just completed an experiment where we deployed our infrastructure at a conference on epidemiology, and we are very happy with the results we obtained. I will blog about that on http://www.sociopatterns.org . We have plans to scale this up very soon, and I would be happy to meet you in Torino and talk about these projects. Drop me a line when you have a well-defined schedule!

  12. [...] I blog this: Informal networks may be part of my future research (see the proposal which has caught a lot of attention). Plus, we extensively research and cover social [...]