Thursday, 2 October 2014

Research methods for people-centred health systems: Social network analysis

As the first two plenary sessions have already highlighted, the focus of the Third Global Symposium on Health Systems Research here in Cape Town, South Africa, is on people-centred health systems. For FHS, which has unlocking community capabilities as a core theme, this is a welcome focus.

But if we're focusing on people-centred health systems, what are the implications for research? We've been exploring a number of methodologies during our research that we will be highlighting throughout the symposium.

For today, the focus is on social network analysis, or SNA.

A bit about social network analysis
SNA allows for identifying and measuring relationships and connections among people, organisations, or other units. By modelling communication, funding, and other pathways among, within, and between people and groups of people, researchers can understand the diffusion of knowledge and innovation, as well as the formation of new relationships over time. In a complex system, social network analysis can also support system conceptualisation.

A social network analysis comprises of a number of nodes, or people, connected by a relationship. This link is known as an edge. SNAs are often visualised in a network map, and network scientists have devised a number of mathematical functions to help describe networks. Often, there is a focus on the density of a network (how many connections individual nodes have), and finding how central a certain node is within a network.

How were using SNA in our research
As part of the FHS India team's in-depth look into the state of maternal and child health services in the Indian Sundarbans of West Bengal, they have done an SNA study examining the social networks of mothers in two remote villages.

In these villages, a number of the men out-migrate to the nearest big city, usually Kolkata, for work. The SNA purposively selected a group of mothers with migrant husbands and another group of mothers whose husbands remained in the community to compare the networks. The SNA has evaluated support networks for cognitive, financial and material support to the mothers. The research brief is forthcoming.

Getting hands on with SNA
At the Third Global Symposium on Health Systems Research, in collaboration with Jess Shearer, we will be undertaking a participatory social network analysis (she will be presenting a detailed analysis at her session on Friday, 3 October between 11:30-13:00 in room 1.61-62). All members of Health Systems Global are invited to take the survey -- either at Stand 56 or online. We're looking at the social, collaborative and information networks of HSG members.

We've been using Google FusionTables to make the network map. Here's a snapshot of the HSG social network.

By Jeff Knezovich, FHS Policy Influence and Research Uptake Manager, Institute of Development Studies