Creating a Data-Driven Strategy for your Network


Trying to create a strategy for managing your network to improve outcomes can feel like an impossible task. Most of us working with cross-sector community networks are relatively new to the field, with little relevant training or experience. As an evolving area of practice, there’s still a shortage of resources out there to help you do your job better. How do you created an informed strategy? What data can you possibly use to make sense of your web of connections?

This isn’t a new problem. In fact it was this problem that led Dr. Danielle Varda to create the PARTNER Tool nearly a decade ago! Designed with community networks in mind, PARTNER is an organizational network analysis tool that measures and visualizes both the structure and quality of your organizational partnerships. This is key: most network mapping tools focus only on structure: who is working with who. While this is helpful, it doesn’t really provide you the information you need to create a strategy for your network.

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PARTNER digs deeper, and provides you the means to analyze each relationship according to perceptions like trust, reliability, mission-alignment, openness to discussion, resource contribution, and more. You can explore not only who is working with you, but how each party perceives the relationship and their partners. Once you understand the quality of your relationships, you can begin identifying weak points, and build a strategy for improvement and growth.

For example, let’s say that a network of food banks and government agencies focused on nutrition used the PARTNER Tool to evaluate their work. They noticed in their results that while the network’s lead agency is viewed as trustworthy and reliable by other partners, many of the smaller nonprofits are viewed as unreliable and untrustworthy. Using your results, you can spend your time facilitating stronger relationships between your smaller network organizations to build trust, and coaching their staff to improve reliability.

Alternatively your PARTNER analysis might show that your lead agency views the resource-contribution of your partners as inadequate, while they view their contributions as meeting expectations. These results would point you in the direction of resource leveraging, to review how you are using the contributions of your partners and improve efficiency of use.

Structure metrics can also provide valuable feedback. PARTNER can show you where you have redundant ties, to help manage relationships more strategically and with less time and effort. Identify key partners with centrality measures and more.

What else sets PARTNER apart from other tools? Beyond its validation in numerous academic studies over a decade, PARTNER comes with a complete package of supportive resources: Reports and consulting by VNL staff, training and workshops by our practitioner experts, a peer-learning forum to share ideas and get help, and a data dashboard to view and compare your PARTNER results against other networks. No other network analysis tool comes close to providing all these features & support!

Networks are messy, often a result of the wicked problems they’re created to address. It can seem hopeless sometimes trying to glean information or evidence from the slurry of connections and relationships. You shouldn’t give up though: more than 4,000 networks and 40,000 organizations have used the PARTNER Tool to evaluate their network and build a strategy for the future. Visit the PARTNER page for more information!

If you’re worried about learning to use the tool, or translating the results into actionable recommendations, we can help with that too. You can purchase a customized full-length Report using your PARTNER results, or a single page Highlights Report. Our Learning Lab also offers trainings and workshops, specific to PARTNER as well as network leadership more broadly. For longer, more-involved evaluation projects, Visible Network Labs can provide more in-depth consulting services, visit our Consulting page for more information.

About the Author


Alex Derr is the Marketing Coordinator for Visible Network Labs. Alex leads our content creation work, helping us produce and share engaging articles, infographics and other resources. He also manages our website, email and social media strategies while supporting our Learning Lab. You can learn more about Alex and our entire team here.