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NCDD’s Long-Term Mapping Efforts

Last week, I announced the visual mapping process NCDD is conducting that leads into our national conference in October. I’m excited to say that about 30 graphic recorders have expressed interest in being involved, and that the interviews are going very well so far thanks to our interviewer, Kathryn Thomson!

At and after the conference, we plan to expand the project to more fully map our field in a way that creates a valuable product for all of us.

US-GoogleMap-outlinedWe are interested in creating several maps, or a single map with multiple layers, that can show things like:

  • The geographic reach of people working in dialogue and deliberation, and of their projects and programs
  • The capacities and assets represented in the field–especially in terms of capacity to convene dialogues, capacity to mobilize others to convene dialogues, and assets that could be considered tangible aspects of civic infrastructure (like facilitator training programs, physical and online spaces for convening, etc.)
  • Consultants and facilitators who are available for hire, including information about the topics they have experience with, the methods they have expertise in, and the training programs they’ve participated in. (Note: NCDD has a member map and directory, but we’d like to find a comprehensive tool that combines map and searchable directory features, and collaborate with other networks expand it well beyond NCDD’s membership.)

We are currently looking for help from those who’ve had direct experience with mapping or data visualization tools to share their experience so we can make a well informed decision about which tool or tools to use. Ideally we would like a tool that is easy to use both to create and to understand the output. The tool also has to handle a very large dataset.

Please contact me at sandy@ncdd.org if you’d like to help advise NCDD on this larger mapping project — or add a comment if you have specific ideas or recommendations. Questions that may help guide your response are…

  1. What tool have you used to create network maps?
  2. What do you think it did exceptionally well?
  3. What do you wish it did better?
  4. What tools would you avoid?

And for those of you with mapping experience, please add your name and email to the comments and plan to join me on Friday at 11am on a group brainstorming call to dig further into these questions and mapping technologies!

Sandy Heierbacher on FacebookSandy Heierbacher on LinkedinSandy Heierbacher on Twitter
Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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  1. Hello Generous Sandy,

    Here is a nice tool to import your mac address book with google earth.
    http://earthlingsoft.net/Earth%20Addresser/

    It is easy, free, you get to see pictures of people, and you can move the google earth globe around in realtime to see the visual of being around the world.

    Here is another easy to use tool to show the visual connectedness of your LinkedIn connections. You will see different groups colored. Of course all of your connections are directly or indirectly related to NCDD through you Sandy.
    http://inmaps.linkedinlabs.com

    Best,
    Ryan

    • Thanks, Ryan! We actually blogged about LinkedIn’s InMaps at https://ncdd.org/15673 a couple of weeks ago, and a bunch of our members shared their maps. It’s an interesting tool.

      The Earthlingsoft map that maps your Mac address book on Google Earth. I’m not sure that would be useful for NCDD, as I wouldn’t want to add everyone into my address book and I’d want a lot more information included than address book has standard. But it wasn’t clear to me if you could actually click on the photos and see people’s information? And can you make the results public, or is it just available to the person whose address book was uploaded? Just curious.

  2. Hi Sandy —

    On a slightly different tack, I got a call today from John Spady, who is interested in the “many issues at once” approach to national networking.

    Where I think this is going is not only towards an integrated network system that can potentially take on “any number” of issues — but, importantly, locate these issues regionally.

    The programming language I use — ColdFusion — has very good simple integration with Google Maps — so the idea is — issues are pertinent to regions (maybe as small as a neighborhood or a city block). When you list an issue in the system, give it a “central” address. Google maps work by assigning latitude and longitude to a center point for whatever is being defined — whether it is a person or an issue. “Where to put the stop sign” is highly local — “What to do about immigration” is national. By assigning a “geocode” center point to any issue in a network, we can specifically locate that issue — and if fifty locales are dealing with “the same” local issue — we could interconnect them all, on an advisory/consulting basis. If it’s national, we can map every person and every group participating. All we need is an address to locate the marker (push pin). Just store that information in the database along with other data pertinent to the issue or group.

    Thanks for everything,

    – Bruce

  3. Charlie Wisoff says:

    Hi Sandy,

    I’m very interested in social network mapping. When I was at Kettering, I did a good amount of research on network analysis as it relates to Kettering’s research questions. I’m also currently exploring the idea of creating an online social network start-up that does something similar to what Bruce mentioned in the post above. The idea would be to create a widely used online social network map that gets updated in real time by users and is used by people to connect over social and political issues they care about. If successful, I think this would be extremely useful, for example, to NCDD practitioners who are looking to do outreach for particular issues in communities and need to find participants by demographic info, leadership status etc..

    I’ve been fiddling around with a network mapping program called NetDraw. I don’t think it has some of the functionality of Kumu and NodeXL (which I didn’t know about!), especially when it comes to making graphs look pretty; but it does have a lot of functionality around network analysis, and it’s relatively easy to use. Data sets for the mapping are supposed to be formatted in text files.

    Looking forward to the call on Friday!

    – Charlie

    • Interesting, Charlie! What is the product of NetDraw? Does it create a visualization that is fully sharable online? And what kind of information does it give viewers access to? I went to the site, but it looks like a good deal of work to get into it.

      Glad you’ll be joining us on Friday!

      • Charlie Wisoff says:

        NetDraw is similar to NodeXL if you’ve looked at that at all. You input a text file that lists all the nodes of a network you want to map. You can give them attributes like: “facilitator”, “organization”, “address” etc.. and then you list which nodes are connected to each other. The output is a picture of a network showing which nodes are connected to each other. You can also do fun things like color code by attribute. So, for example ,if you wanted to highlight all the facilitators in a specific area, you can do that, and they’ll just show up as different color than all the other nodes. Once you produce a network map, you can convert it into a jpg which would be uploadable to the internet. But it’s not user-friendly enough that it would make a good online application in the sense of the one you’re talking about in your response to Hugh. I assume if you could somehow get your hands on the code it wouldn’t be extremely difficult to develop it into a more user-friendly application. Although, I was looking at NodeXL a lot yesterday, and it seems that that might be an easier route to achieve the same goals.

      • Yeah, I definitely want more than a visualization of nodes, clusters, connections, etc. I really want the dots/points to be clickable so people can connect with each other.

        I learned about NodeXL from the Network Weavers Facebook group, which can be found at https://www.facebook.com/groups/339757846085496/. It’s my favorite FB group (aside from NCDD’s, of course). 🙂

  4. Hello Sandy,

    I’ve got a hammer that can hit that nail 😉 Posting in the comments as requested – hope this isn’t too long…

    One of the exercises we do in narrative sensemaking is that of creating conceptual landscape maps. Such a map could complement geographical maps of NCDD members by helping people find members close to them in what they do and what they want to do. If we applied such an exercise to the NCDD membership, this is what we’d do.

    1. We would start by telling each other stories about the most memorable experiences in our D&D work — what has happened to us that matters to us. The question we would answer would be something like this:

    “If you could choose one moment across the years of your work that best describes what *matters* to you in what you do, what would that moment be? It doesn’t have to be a happy moment; it can be a moment of sadness or pain; but that moment has to have mattered to you. What happened to you during that moment?”

    We could do this in person at the conference, through the web or discussion lists, or in both ways. We would need at least 20 or 30 stories of real experiences to do this, and preferably more (>100 would be ideal).

    2. We would discuss and decide on a set of two or three conceptual dimensions that would define a space we believe would be useful to NCDD members. These would come partly out of the stories (finding dimensions of variation that play out across them) and partly from the needs of NCDD members. The dimensions should eschew traditional labels (such as the names of established approaches) and get to the heart of what people are trying to do in their work.

    3. In a room at the conference, or during a phone call, we would mark out these dimensions on a wall or screen.

    4. We would place the collected stories into the defined space one by one, discussing each placement (and splitting some if they seem to fit in more than one space). If this was done physically, each story would be represented by a sticky note. If it was done virtually, each story would be represented by a shape with some words on it. Hexagonal or round notes/shapes are best because they create beehive clusters easily. If we want a third dimension we would choose a color for each stick note or shape. (Placement could be speeded up by having small groups take subsets of the total and place them. More depth could be created by having multiple small groups place each story.)

    5. After all the stories were placed, we would discover and discuss emerging features of the space, such as concentrations of stories, no man’s lands, boundaries, and so on. If we had used a third dimension (with colors) we would also discover heights in the space, with areas such as deserts, mountains, ravines, and so on. (A good third dimension is uncertainty, because then the whole thing becomes a “fitness landscape” which can be used to think about the future.) We might end up with a subdivided space, but it would be subdivided based on our discoveries than distinctions set out by an _a priori_ framework.

    6. The landscapes and their features could be recreated as online maps into the membership based on experiences, with the ability to drill down into the stories of any member or group. People could also tell new stories and place them onto the map where they think they belong. Or a person could tell a new story, then ask others to place their story where they think it belongs. Or people could hold telephone calls to place each batches of new stories through discussion.

    Because this approach relies on emergent patterns in the aggregation of lived experiences, and because it deliberately puts aside the surface labels we use to describe our work, it has the ability to discover compatibilities and opportunities of which we may have not been aware. You could say that the exercise maps *homophily* (people who care about the same things) more than any other aspect of network life. In fact my work on this exercise has been inspired in part by the work of Miller McPherson on homophilous networks.

    However, mapping homophily would never work as a *primary* means of finding out information about members. It should only be used as a *complement* to fact-based network maps. That is a limitation of the method: it works best in concert with other methods, not alone.

    Hope that’s helpful! Happy to describe this more fully if anybody needs it.

    Cynthia Kurtz

    • Cynthia, this is fascinating. Thanks so much for posting about it.

      “Because this approach relies on emergent patterns in the aggregation of lived experiences, and because it deliberately puts aside the surface labels we use to describe our work, it has the ability to discover compatibilities and opportunities of which we may have not been aware.”

      What an amazing way to catalyze greater collaboration! I look forward to learning more…

  5. Hugh Stimson says:

    You mentioned spatial, network and systems mapping as goals for the project, and my impression is that your focus will in particular be on network mapping.

    I can’t speak to network mapping, but I do have experience with several spatial mapping platforms. I suppose my first question would be, are you looking to create a single, stand-alone, one-off product, or are you trying to build a framework that you can support a series of visualizations?

    If you have a broader goal in mind my general advice would be to avoid siloed proprietary systems and instead build using extensible tools with large communities of support and that are designed with an open systems approach so that they can play nicely with each other (Leaflet, CartoDB, MapBox, and perhaps Google come to mind).

    On the other hand if you have a single focused outcome in mind sometimes you might find a stand-alone proprietary tool that can deliver that with a minimum of fuss and without requiring developer effort.

    I’m not aware of any spatial-first platforms that can easily handle network and systems mapping, although I have seen example where they have been made to do so. It could well be the case that there are stand-alone systems or network mapping tools that can also handle spatial mapping to some degree.

    • These are very helpful questions, Hugh. I hope you can join us on the call on Friday and, if not, maybe the two of us can schedule a time to talk early next week.

      I think we DO want to do spatial mapping, actually, if I’m understanding the terminology. We are interested in network mapping, certainly, but let me explain a bit further what our “dream map” would be. What I would LOVE to see created is an interactive, zoomable geographic map that shows individuals, organizations, projects and programs. You click on one button and you see just projects that have been held across the country, to get a sense of how widespread and varied this work is. You click on another button (or layer) and you just see facilitators and consultants, so you can easily see who’s based near you. You can also search by name, location, method, issue, organization and so on.

      The impression I’m getting at this point is that the tool for this may not exist yet — or may require extensive developer involvement. What’s your take on that? If significant development work is involved, maybe we can get a good survey going and use a simple, cheaper existing tool for output/visualization and data organization until we potentially get the funding for something more involved.

      • Hugh Stimson says:

        Hi Sandy,

        My wild guess is that you can probably get about 50% of what you ideally want using an off the shelf tool and some fumbling with unfamiliar file types. And also that you might be happy with that as a first result. I’d in particular look into CartoDB, which can provide a layer switcher which, while not a series of buttons, is kinda sorta what you’re describing.

        Then if you wanted to extend it (actually make buttons, custom visualizations and so on) you could hire a developer to extend your existing work later.

        I unfortunately can’t make that call on Friday but would be happy to speak with you early next week if you like. I’ll email you with my contact details.

  6. I invite all of you to join me on Friday at 11am Eastern for a brainstorming call on NCDD’s mapping interests and challenges. It’s amazing to see the range of mapping suggestions and expertise we have just in these comments alone!

    We’ll use join.me so we can have screensharing as well as audio. Join.me will allow me to pass screensharing over to any of you, so that should help if you have a mapping tool or technique you’d like to explain.

    To join the meeting at 11am Eastern on Friday (8am Pacific), go to https://join.me/ncddrocks.

    (You can also use the join.me app on your iPad if you want to, and enter the meeting code “ncddrocks.”)

    Then call in to the audio by clicking on the phone icon — or using any one of these phone numbers:

    United States – Hartford, CT +1.860.970.0010
    United States – Los Angeles, CA +1.213.226.1066
    Canada – Toronto +1.647.977.2648

    When prompted, enter this Access Code: 891-970-073#

    Please do join us if you can!

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