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Network Mapping for Ontario’s Healthy Communities Partnerships


I What is network mapping?
II Project background and context
III Steps for Healthy Communities Partnerships to create a network map
IV Results: trends and patterns in the Healthy Communities Partnerships’ network maps
V Conclusion

--submitted by Robyn Kalda, Health Nexus

I What is network mapping?

Network mapping is also known as social network analysis.

Social network analysis is the mapping and measuring of relationships and flows between people, groups, organizations, computers or other information/knowledge processing entities. The nodes in the network are the people and groups while the links show relationships or flows between the nodes. Social network analysis provides both a visual and a mathematical analysis of complex human systems.

- Valdis Krebs (

Specifically, network mapping offers the following:

  • increased understanding of the strengths of existing networks
  • identification of areas within networks that need to be expanded or strengthened
  • methodology to demonstrate growth and change over time.

In short, network mapping and analysis helps groups look at how they are working together now, and how they might work together even more effectively to reach their specified goals.

Network mapping typically does not create an inventory of community assets. It assumes this has already been done. Other processes, such as community mapping, asset mapping, stakeholder analysis are effective tools at that stage.

II Project background and context

Health Nexus ( was contracted by the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion and Sport  (MHPS, in July of 2010 to support network mapping and analysis for the 36 Healthy Communities Partnerships (HCPs,

The purpose of this project was to provide the HCPs with information that would contribute to their community profiles and shape strategies to further strengthen their community connections and linkages, including the February 15, 2011 submission of their comprehensive local profiles, the Community Picture.

Through the use of both electronic survey technology and mapping software, Healthy Communities Partnerships’ network maps provided a baseline ‘snapshot’ of the current levels of connection within each local partnership. Connections, strengths, gaps and opportunities were made visible, helping answer key questions in the network- and community-building process:

  • Are the right connections in place? Are any key connections missing?
  • Is the group as inclusive as it could be? Are all possible sectors, stakeholders, and networks represented?
  • Who plays a leadership role? Who does not, but could?
  • Are there opportunities for enhanced collaboration?
  • Who are the mentors others seek out for advice?
  • How do good ideas spread within this network? Who are the innovators?

(Adapted from: Valdis Krebs and June Holley, Building Smart Communities through Network Weaving, 2002)

Health Nexus has extensive experience in community engagement and network development. Network mapping and analysis provided additional, visually-based tools to assist with this work.

III Steps for Healthy Communities Partnerships to create a network map

  • Consider what people want to learn about their network. Network mapping ideally begins with a discussion of what groups would like to learn about their network, such as the balance between various sectors, geographic regions, ages and genders as well leaders, mentors and innovators in their network. Is the network seeking to discover its hidden leaders to improve its functioning? Is it looking to take advantage of current members’ connections to expand its representation or its work? Is it trying to work on a complex, ongoing or seemingly intractable issue either internally or within the community? Is it focused on how members might collaborate on work in a certain area or on a certain topic? In this project partnerships tended to focus on answering questions key to their community pictures.
  • Develop a contact list of stakeholders. This is a list of people in each partnership who should receive a survey about the network. Choosing who will be surveyed is a key part of the network mapping process. The names of those answering the survey are typically included in the network questions within the survey itself, thus allowing participants to indicate their connections quickly and easily. It is therefore important to take time to construct a participant list that represents the network well and that will be able to help the network answer the questions it has about itself. Network coordinators, facilitators, and organizers are key members of their network and need to remember to include themselves on the participant list for the survey.
  • Contribute ideas for the survey questions. Are there specific sectors, organizations, audiences, age groups, or regions (for example) that the network is particularly interested in exploring? Typically there are about ten multiple-choice demographic questions on the survey and up to four network questions (questions about relationships). In this project, we developed a common set of survey questions that formed the foundation of the network mapping survey instrument. Each partnership had an opportunity to include up to five customized questions specific to their communities, as well as the ability to edit or remove core survey questions to better suit local needs.
  • Send out the electronic survey to community stakeholders. The network map is as strong as the number of people who complete the survey so partnerships needed to send several ‘strategic reminders’ to ensure a good rate of return. Depending on their available time and money, some partnerships offered incentives for survey completion; some made personalized phone calls to remind participants, and some sent email reminders. Of course, no list and no survey are ever perfect, and this project worked under time constraints which provided additional challenges. The average response rate was well over 50%: a very good response especially given that partnerships were in the very early phases of their existence.
  • Look at the maps and analyze/interpret the results. We used the survey data and network analysis software to produce maps and (where necessary) numeric tables. The Partnership’s goals and questions about itself guided the production of the maps: who was included in each map, and which relationships were depicted in it, were controlled and changed as necessary to help the Partnership address its needs. For example, some Partnerships looked at a large map depicting relationships across their entire regions, but also created maps looking at how sub-regions relate in isolation. Some explored the relationships between those working with a particular audience or within a particular sector.

That was the end of the process for this project, but it is important to add:

  • The network develops a strategy to strengthen the network and the work it wishes to accomplish. After this strategy has been in action for some time, network members are often surveyed again and the network is re-mapped, which may lead to another network-improving strategy. This process can be repeated any number of times.

IV Results: trends and patterns in the Healthy Communities Partnerships’ network maps

"Understanding the pre-existing social relationships in a setting is vital in health promotion, not only for encouraging important people to get ‘on side’ with an intervention but also for appreciating how the intervention itself might change social structures."

Source: Use of social network analysis to map the social relationships of staff and teachers at school. Penelope Hawe and Laura Ghali, Health Education Research 2008 23(1):62-69; doi:10.1093/her/cyl162

Overall health of the Partnerships’ networks

We were very pleased to find that virtually all partnerships had overall network maps displaying the classic pattern of a healthy, strong, well-connected network.

Figure 1 is a typical example of this pattern. There is a core of those who are particularly strongly connected to each other, an inner periphery of those somewhat connected to this network (and probably also connected to other networks as well), and an outer periphery of those connected minimally, whose networks are primarily elsewhere. This periphery forms a field of those who are a potential valuable source of new ideas and information for the partnership network.

Figure 1: Well-connected Network

The size of the core, inner periphery and outer periphery varied among the partnerships but all followed this general healthy, resilient pattern. As a baseline, the partnerships are in an excellent position to work in a coordinated way within their communities.

Several partnerships used the network mapping process in a novel way. They used the survey to collect the names of people’s contacts. Instead of listing names, they used an open-ended format which asked for names to be added and relationships. Their network maps show a different, more dendritic pattern of connections (Figure 2), displaying more clearly the networks-of-networks concept than do the maps created with the more standard method. These partnerships were instrumental in developing this method for network mapping in communities where the networks in question are not as easily defined.

Figure 2: Dendritic Connections

This more open structure does not demonstrate a less healthy network; it simply reflects an outward-focused network mapping process designed to collect the names of possibly unfamiliar connections, rather than an inward-focused process directed more towards examining the relationships between defined individuals.

Healthy Communities Fund—top Ministry of Health Promotion and Sport priority area

Some Partnerships were able to use map information to help refine priorities; others are using the maps to guide their work on priorities already defined.

Physical activity and healthy eating

Physical activity and healthy eating were the two priority areas most frequently represented in the network maps.

Mental health promotion

Mental health promotion often took third place on the maps, usually well-integrated with other priorities but sometimes in a more peripheral position.

Injury prevention

Injury prevention was often not well connected to itself in the network maps, possibly because survey participants choosing injury prevention as their top priority came from a diverse range of organizations and fields, including hospitals, police, recreation/sport, or seniors falls prevention. However, several partnerships did show strong injury prevention clusters.

Substance misuse

Substance misuse was often peripheral in the maps, but was frequently represented as a second priority in those partnerships that asked about second priorities.


Tobacco was only sparsely represented—or absent—on most of the network maps.  Extensive work in tobacco cessation over the past 10 years has resulted in networks that have worked successfully with each other, but not necessarily with other priority areas.

V Conclusion

The Network Mapping for Healthy Communities was the first time in Ontario that regional networks have been mapped simultaneously as part of an overall capacity-building strategy to build healthy communities.

The project confirmed that healthy and vibrant networks are alive and well within the Ontario Healthy Communities Partnerships. Building on the strengths of these partnerships, the network maps provide a new, visual tool to identify areas for growth and development and support the creation of appropriate governance structures. Although we are still at an early stage of analysis with the maps, early indications show that network maps will become useful tools for Healthy Communities Partnerships to identify opportunity clusters, plan for community engagement and create ‘networks of networks’ for healthy public policy.

This project has set the stage for work in 2011 – 12 through the Healthy Communities Consortium ( to continue the analysis of the network maps in the context of the work of the partnerships as well as working with others related to or eligible for grants under the Healthy Communities Fund.  There may also be the possibility of using the maps to identify mentors across the system whose partnerships are particularly strong in certain areas such as francophone integration, indigenous representation, and injury prevention.