Can Network Analysis Strengthen Information Sharing in the Pacific?
Pacific RISA recently launched a multi-year social network analysis project to examine how climate information spreads across different sectors and countries in the Pacific Islands region. Using the December 2012 release of the Pacific Islands Regional Climate Assessment (PIRCA) report as a spring board, researchers are collecting data to analyze the networks of climate change scientists and professionals.
To learn more about social network analysis, Pacific RISA Communications Coordinator Zena Grecni spoke with Dr. Kati Corlew, who is a community and cultural psychologist and serves as the project’s Research Fellow. She provided great insights about their research methods and the study’s importance to Pacific RISA’s mission.
Zena: Thank you for talking with me today, Kati.
Kati: Of course! Thank you, Zena.
Zena: To start off, what is social network analysis, and why did you select this method to look at how information is shared in the Pacific region?
Kati: Social network analysis is a way to look at connections and relationships in communities of people. With network analysis, we can explore statistical theories, but we can also create a map of these relationships to graphically reveal reasons, motivations, and implications behind them. We chose network analysis for this project because in the Pacific, climate change projects cross sectors, regions, and fields of study. We have a strong sense of collaboration, but at the same time, we all want to know how to make these collaborations stronger. With network analysis, we can see where the strengths are in our network of climate change professionals, and also identify opportunities for growth.
Zena: Will the analysis be limited to connections among people living in the US-Affiliated Pacific Islands, or does it look at regional and international flows of information as well?
Kati: We are focused on Hawaiʻi and the USAPI, but much of the work done in this region is necessarily broader in scope. There are a number of climate change professionals who work in our region but who are based elsewhere. So, we expanded the network to capture these realities. We have participants from other parts of the Pacific, from the US mainland, and from all over the world.
Zena: How many people did you expect to reach? And, how many actually responded?
Kati: Well, we were hoping for hundreds, and that’s what we got. We have 340 participants currently, and I expect a few more will be trickling in over the next few weeks.
Zena: It sounds like you’ve been successful in collecting a lot of data. What do you hope to learn from the analysis?
Kati: We’re doing two types of analysis. First, we will look for strengths and gaps in our communications network. This information will help anyone in our field get an idea of where, and with whom, they might want to work in the future. I’m hoping this information will also be useful when agencies are requesting funds for future projects. Like, “Here is proof that we are really connected in this area.” Or, “Hey, we really want to improve our connections to this other area.”
Kati: The second type of analysis has to do with the theoretical drivers of network connection and our understanding of risk, as climate change professionals. With confidential, aggregated data, we will explore how network connection is related to climate change risk perception and to our psychological sense of community with other professionals. From this we hope to learn more about how and why people become actively involved in a community of climate change professionals.
Zena: Have you had any surprises so far, in looking at the survey data?
Kati: Wow, for me? I was surprised to realize how many professionals we knew (or knew of) who worked in climate change-related fields in Hawaiʻi versus other US -Affiliated Pacific Islands. I was able to compile a list of almost 500 people from Hawaiʻi, but for example in Palau I could only find contact information for 35 people. That’s a big difference, and already we can see that we need to further develop connections and capacity for future collaborations in Palau.
Zena: How will the data and results be displayed?
Kati: For the network connections, I am building a giant digital map. It will be broken down by physical region as well as by profession, to make it easier to search for strengths and collaboration opportunities. This will be freely available through our website. We’ll also write up what we learn in fact sheets, short reports, and journal articles.
Zena: What is the ultimate significance of this project to Pacific Island decision makers and to those who provide information about climate to communities?
Kati: The biggest takeaway is that we are connected throughout our region. We all know this—we are a series of islands connected by the ocean. But there is always room to build these connections. By mapping out how we communicate, we can find how best to strengthen our community.
There you have it, everyone, straight from social network analysis researcher Dr. Kati Corlew. If you have additional questions about Pacific RISA’s social network analysis project, you may contact Kati at corlewk@EastWestCenter.org, or email us at info@PacificRISA.org. You can also find more information on the social network analysis project page.