Social Network Analysis and Social Work Inquiry
Australian Social Work
Understanding and positively impacting social networks is core to social work practice and research. As a research method, social network analysis provides an important mechanism for mapping various types of networks as well as the relationships and exchanges between network actors. This has relevance to Australian human and health services given the social policy context that currently emphasises and requires improvements in the integration of services. This paper describes the application of
... ocial network analysis to a consortium of mental health and related services to examine indicators of service integration such as the frequency, type, and direction of information exchanges including referral pathways. When combined with other research methods and information, social network analysis is shown to be a useful tool providing both visual and sociometric evidence of relational activities, thus creating a strong basis for advocacy and social change. This research reviews how the methods and techniques of social network analysis (SNA) have been applied to social work inquiry, and describes how SNA was employed together with qualitative methods to explore the complexity of service integration. Service integration is examined in the environment of an Australian federally-funded program in which a Social Network Analysis 2 consortium of 11 government and non-government organisations were tasked with overseeing the facilitation and delivery of coordinated mental health, primary health, employment, and alcohol and other drug services to a cohort of underserviced consumers and their families. Central to the consortium's brief is a commitment to strengthening network partnerships by developing linkages between services and improving referral pathways. The lead agency is responsible for the governance of the program and a team of clinicians from organisations in the consortium meet regularly to share information, conduct intake and review processes, raise community awareness, and strengthen integrated local responses to meet consumer SNA to obtain a baseline snapshot of the relationships between services in the MHS consortium and, in particular, the nature of information exchange and referral pathways. This was to give program staff access to key indicators about the relative health of the consortium in the first year of its life and assist in identifying areas for remedial attention, thus creating the conditions for the program to respond and attend to relationship opportunities and ruptures. While these techniques remain relatively underutilised by social work researchers, it is our view that SNA offers social workers not only a means of understanding connections between services but also the potential for wider application to social work inquiry. What follows is a summary of SNA and how its key elements relate to the construct of service integration.