OCS Site Mgmt, Setting Sail For the Future: Leveraging Diversity For a Stronger Crew

N is for Network: New Tools for Mapping Organizational Change
Nancy L Steffen-Fluhr, Anatoliy Gruzd, Regina Collins, Babajide Osatuyi

Last modified: 2010-02-28


“To know who we are, we must understand how we are connected,” write Christakis and Fowler in their 2009 book on the power of social networks. This observation is true of organizations as well as individuals. Universities and corporations are not merely buildings and balance sheets; they are “relational entities”—webs of interaction and perception whose complex structure is largely invisible to the people embedded in them (O’Reilly 1991). Organizational networks are “transformational engines” (Ibarra 2005). They supply the social capital that powers career success, allowing young professionals to convert their human capital into status. Network structure drives institutional change as well, facilitating (or retarding) innovation—maintaining (or altering) norms, including norms of gender and race.  Understanding network dynamics is especially important for underrepresented minorities and women in technological organizations, who can easily spend their entire careers on the periphery, far away from the flow of information at the core. As Christakis and Fowler note, “Network inequality creates and reinforces inequality of opportunity.”


Our paper explores these issues by describing the results of a new study of faculty research networks conducted by the NSF-funded ADVANCE program at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.  Using tools such as UCINET and ORA to analyze a database that contains nearly a decade of information about NJIT faculty publications, ADVANCE researchers have created dynamic co-authorship maps for individual faculty and departments. These maps provide a thick description of faculty interactions over time, allowing us to better understand the gender patterns in the university as a whole.


The paper concludes by suggesting how change agents across the country can use network analysis to support the advancement of women and minorities: 1) by giving faculty access to the kind of aerial view of the organizational landscape normally available only to strategically positioned “boundary spanners”—a kind of GPS System for Career Management;  2) by giving chairs and deans a more effective tool for identifying problematic characteristics of the units they manage; and 3) by bringing added value to the task of program assessment, allowing us to tracking changes in organizational structure over time.


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