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Organizational Networks

International Organizations and the Generation of the Will to Change

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Appendix I of: International Organizations and the Generation of the Will to Change (UAI Study Papers INF/5, 1970)


The analysis of networks is closely related to the mathematics of graph theory. Some very useful and powerful insights may be obtained concerning the complexity with which all the Reports deal. Networks may, for example, be distinguished by (+):

a) Shape of the organizational network

reachability: a measure of the extent to which a given organization or person may contact or be contacted via the network links which surround it. This is therefore an indication of the number of intermediaries necessary to make the contact and, in the limiting case, whether the organization is in fact completely isolated.

A systematic analysis of the reachability of organizations, departments, information services, etc. at the world level would indicate very clearly where new services or communication lines are necessary, or where there are already too many. This could take the form of an information map with 'contours' indicating the ease with which information from certain points could be obtained when starting from others.

density: a measure of the degree of interconnectedness of a group of organizations.

This would give a very good measure of the cohesiveness of a particular subsystem. Differences in density would reflect the tendency for more highly cohesive groups to centre on themselves and introduce a "we-they" attitude into their relationship with other parts of the system, but particularly with other dense parts of the system.. This would offer a good means of detecting problems arising due to subsystem isolationism.

range: the number of direct links to an organization (or person). This is related to the ability to mobilize support on an issue.

This offers a means of detecting low-entropy nodes, namely bodies which due to the high number of contacts will either be key points in resistance to change or else key points in implementing ordered change. It is an indication of high organizing or coordinating power.

b) Interaction within the network

content: the purpose of the interaction (economic assistance, data flow, decision flow, contractual obligation, etc.). Two organizations may be linked by interactions with different contents thereby forming a multiple link. Nodes to a wide variety of multiple links represent points at which a change may have implications for many different subsystems.

directedness. direction of the flow of interaction or indication of lack of reciprocity. In multiple links the direction of flow in one link may be opposite to that in another (financial aid may be reciprocated by political support).

durability: the period over which a certain set of links to the organization is activated and used. At one extreme there are the links activated only for a particular crisis, at the other there are links in permanent use. The expansion and contraction of such networks offer considerable potential for understanding inter-organization problems.

Low durability links and nodes are those associated with one-off activities, projects, meetings. Higher durability links and nodes are those associated with multi-year programmes, regular meeting series, etc. High durability links and nodes are those associated with permanent organizations. Some meeting series have great durability (although different frequency) than some letterhead style organizations with a short life time.

intensity: a measure of the relative strength, importance or "bond energy" of an interaction. This can be considered as a measure of the volume of information, funds, decisions, etc. flowing between given nodes.

frequency: a measure of the frequency of interaction or contact. This may be the frequency of a periodical distribution, membership fee, annual subsidy, receipt of feedback information, three-yearly meeting, etc.

The power of the network approach is increased when it is realized that many significant interactions between organizations are not direct but indirect via one, two, or a whole chain of links between intermediate bodies. An analytical approach based on computer processing of data can be used to detect "weaknesses" in such chains and networks according to different criteria.

(+) Adapted and amplified from Mitchell, J. Clyde. The concept and use of social networks. In. Mitchell, J. Clyde (Ed.) Social Networks in Urban Situations. Manchester University Press, 1969, pp. 12-29

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