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Welcome to the Agora: The Why and How of Social Network Analysis (SNA) for Analytics Decision Audits

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Social Network Analysis (SNA) offers a powerful, low impact method to examine the quality of organizational decision processes.  Such a tool is of interest to evidence-based managers, decision professionals, and analytics practitioners alike.  The second-part of a series on the role of organizational politics in decision making, this article goes into greater detail concerning the proposed application of Social Network Analysis (SNA) to organizational decision process analysis (part one: 

As the interaction between organizational decision stakeholders can heavily influence the quality of a decision process, examining the relations between decision actors can offer insight into potential organizational process problems and pitfalls.  During the entire chain of a decision process, from problem identification and framing through interpreting and communicating the results of an analytical inquiry, subtle biases and ‘agency interests’ can creep into and affect process robustness.  Examining potential shortfalls and breakdowns in the network of decision stakeholders can provide a potential intervention tool to ensure high-quality deliberations.

As opposed to the misguided notion that organizational politics are inherently bad and need to be removed, from a broad frame, an organization can be considered as being inherently "politics all the way down". From this we can propose that, in terms of decision making process quality (robustness of processes for problem identification, framing, analysis, etc.), there are 'more' and 'less' healthy political processes.

The notion is that the organization can be seen as a type of 'decision making machine', albeit one which is slow and at times flawed (i.e. through the influence of both inherent decision biases and agency forces). To the degree we consciously attempt to map potential process breakdowns which occur at the organizational communication network level, one can attempt to introduce intervention to overcome decision process shortcomings (i.e. when a process is followed, but the participants are not interacting in a robust way). 

An organizational decision stakeholder map clarifies who interacts with whom, and on what basis. What becomes visible is hubs and spokes, chains of communication, and strong versus weak coalitions, both cooperating and competing.  Coalition competition can be healthy when it builds resilience in decision analysis and analytical interpretation. 

A simple, yet powerful way to understand the more complex socio-organizational context related to organizational actor interactions (as specifically associated with decision processes) is Social Network Anlaysis (SNA). SNA goes beyond linear understandings of decision processes (i.e. business process maps, information / data flows, governance structures) and results in distributed network-based 'maps' of interacting roles. 

How does one get started with SNA for conducting organizational decision structure audits?  For high-level analysis: an SNA analysis & visualization tool is a solid foundation to starting your inquiry. UCINET is regarded as a good all-around choice:

The RACI Matrix method is a good way to categorize roles in relation to an organizational decision process ( This forces a strict and focused accounting of who is involved in the decision process, how they relate / participate, and their relative power in terms of the final decision. The resulting survey data, when collated, outlines the central decision agents, specifying the participant roles and their connections to others in a network format.  This provides a foundation for identifying 'social architectural' strengths and weaknesses in the organizational decision making network.

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