Roles In Networks

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This short set of slides summarizes the characteristics of people who play specific roles in networks. In a social network analysis, people in these roles can be discovered by running mathematical …

This short set of slides summarizes the characteristics of people who play specific roles in networks. In a social network analysis, people in these roles can be discovered by running mathematical algorithms through the social graphs. But you don't need to be an algorithm to spot some of these people in your networks!

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  • Welcome to the Module 2 in the Introduction to Social and Organizational network analysis. This course is designed for people who want to understand how to identify and map networks within their organizations and groups as well as for those who want to learn about the tools and methods that are available to map networks of any type.
  • Networks are about people. When we look at organizational network maps, we are looking at the relationships among people. In networks that we are familiar with, we often already “know” what a person’s role is. The left-hand column of this table lists some of the common terms that we use to refer to roles that have specific functions in a network. When we look at network maps, our eyes can sometimes “see” a particular relationship, but when the networks are large, we need to look at the metrics. On the right, I’ve listed the technical terms for the first four, which are commonly called brokerage roles. These terms themselves may vary from one network analysis software application to the next, but the principle idea behind them is the same.
  • Now we can look at the broadcasters – those who bring information from outside into their groups. These people need to have in-arrows from inside their groups, and out-arrows into the outside groups.
  • In this next set of examples, we are looking at a network with three groups, so that you can see the roles. As in most metrics calculations, the directionality of the ties is important. Here it is C that plays a key connector role – that of liaison, because C is communicating with A and B, who represent different groups. C is therefore in a position to pass information from one group to another. Patti Notes: Coordinator Gatekeeper Rep Consultant Liaison Total1 0 0 0 0 0 0C 1 14 4 0 2 217 0 0 0 0 0 08 1 0 0 0 0 19 0 0 0 0 0 010 0 0 0 0 0 0H 0 6 2 0 0 814 2 0 0 0 0 225 2 0 0 0 0 227 0 0 0 0 0 0A 0 1 1 0 0 2I 0 0 4 0 0 433 0 0 0 0 0 0B 0 0 3 0 0 3G 5 0 0 0 0 540 1 0 0 0 0 147 0 0 0 0 0 0J 19 0 0 0 0 1953 4 0 0 0 0 4F 0 0 0 0 0 064 0 0 0 0 0 068 0 0 0 0 0 079 1 3 3 0 0 7E 9 5 5 0 0 19D 20 0 0 0 0 20
  • It turns out that C is also a gatekeeper. C as well as E, control information that comes into their groups. C controls information from A and the blue group into the yellow group. E controls information coming from I and the blue group.
  • Last, we can see the coordinators here – these are the people who keep everyone within their groups connected and keep information flowing. The blue group has 2 connectors, D and J, and E is a central connector for the pink group. There is no strong coordinator within the yellow group.
  • When we looked at the overall network patterns, we noted those people on the outside or periphery of the network. They may not be connected to people in this network, as it was bounded by the names for which we collected data. But they almost certainly are connected to other networks. And this can make them highly prized for the outside information that they bring into the network.
  • Last, let’s look at the role of the structural hole, which is not a specific centrality metric. There are complicated measures for calculating the extent to which people occupy this position, but those are beyond the scope of this introductory course. But it is important to pause to see this particular pattern.This is a person, A, who has ties outside of her own group to two other groups. She is in fact not a hole herself but is filling what would be a hole in the structure. If these ties were not present, the green and pink groups would be cut off from each other. The structural hole, like the connector, is in a unique position to weave the network. Some people may enjoy the power that such a position brings, but in this networked world it is far more powerful to make connections than to control the information that moves between them.


  • 1.
    Network Roles
    Produced for The Community Roundtable from an upcoming on-line self-paced course, Introduction to Social Network Analysis
    -- Patti Anklam, Net Work
  • 2. Roles
  • 3. Roles in Networks
  • 4. A View of the Roles: Broadcasters*
    B, C, and I share (broadcast) information outside their groups
    *aka Representatives
  • 5. A View of the Roles: Connector
    C is connecting (is a liaison to) two other groups
  • 6. A View of the Roles: Gatekeepers
    C and E control the flow of information into their groups
  • 7. A View of the Roles: Coordinators
    D, E, and J move information around in their groups
  • 8. A View of the Roles: Peripheral Specialists
    Nodes that have very few connections to any group
  • 9. Structural Holes
    A unique and potentially powerful position
    • A structural hole exists when a single node connects two groups
    • 10. These are potentially very powerful positions
    • 11. In many cases, the structural hole’s ties outside its own network may be weak ties
  • Lurkers
    May be more important than you think
    • Weakly connected to the network
    • 12. Usually on the periphery
    • 13. May infrequent play the role of peripheral specialist
    • 14. Absorb more than they share
    • 15. But may move information to other networks