Network Goal Interventions

Network Goal Interventions

In our approach, a critical way to create positive change is to develop interventions that target theoretical variables in the dynamic network system (Westaby and colleagues, 2012; 2014; 2017). We now refer to these as “network goal interventions” to differentiate the approach from other intervention frameworks. There are numerous ways to intervene, consistent with underlying propositions in dynamic network theory. The following illustrates a partial listing of potential intervention techniques and issues to be mindful of when trying to create change.  See Westaby and Parr (2020) for scientific references that empirically support many of the stratgies below. For those readers trying to proactively change their systems or participants in our Lab research who have received their computerized reports, feel free to use the list to start generating intervention ideas in the context of your results. After a list is brainstormed, priorities could be set, and the plan could be implemented with follow-up network goal surveys to track and visualize the change, which is a common process used in our Social Networks and Performance course, which allows students to strive to achieve their important goals in life. 


How do I [or We] Create Positive Change?


1. Establish a quality goal (e.g., one that is important, meaningful, inspiring, and/or challenging). This will help trigger network motivation toward a current (or new) goal. The goal provides a beacon for the configuration or contagion of a new or transforming dynamic network system.  Sometimes, the current goals simply need re-framing to generate more interest in a system.

2. Increase network motivation in the system around the goal, mission, or objective (aka “goal pursuit links”). This may mean getting more entities to join the system as partner goal strivers (G) and/or system supporters (S) or for current entities to increase their level of goal striving and/or system supporting.  Our Lab's network goal analyses show not only the exact level of these linkages, but provides a canvas to think about what needs to change. For example, one may see that new S linkages are needed between some of the people already in the system or realize that others need to be brought into the system to directly pursue the goal (G) or provide more support (S) to those working toward the goal.  There are numerous empirically-supported scientific studies that demonstrate the importance of goal striving and support on human performance in social psychology and industrial and organizational psychology, although DNT is the first to show how it all ties together in the context of network goal analysis. Such goals are not only relevant at the individual level, but also at group, organizational, and societal levels.  Leadership research also commonly finds that transformative leaders use such goals, which then resonate with followers.  From a DNT perspective, this can create transformation charge through network dynamics.

3. Increase or improve feedback linkages to entities in network motivation roles. Feedback is a critical lever for generating motivation in a system, as shown in considerable psychological and organizational research.  However, increasing network motivation and feedback linkages (FB) should be done competently and efficiently. Otherwise, simply adding unnecessary links could reduce overall system efficiency.  Moreover, feedback given to those performing poorly needs to be done with extra care (e.g., with S and R links bolstering constructive P), so that the recipient may not feel more upset about the situation (N) and potentially destabilize the person's motivation.

4. Promote system competency among those in network motivation roles (G and S), such as through self-learning, training, development, or formal education. Consider recruiting experts, certified coaches, counselors, or skilled consultants as needed to manage complex system dynamics.  This is especially relevant when previous intervention efforts have stalled or failed or when you no longer know what to do or lose hope. Online tools are also available in many spheres to help people facilitate competencies.

5. Attend carefully to highly central entities.  For example, ensure that the highly central entities in the network motivation sub-network are committed and competent in managing the important brokerage behaviors in that position.  If they are not, new linkages between other entities may be necessary to improve support functions.  In contrast, if an entity is highly central in a system negation sub-network, special attention is needed to manage the sensitivities around such serious contexts.  Why is this person the center of people feeling upset and how can it be managed carefully for positive change without escalating conflict?

6. Intervene on the underlying decision-making processes. Generate needed persuasion strategies, incentives, or sanctions to motivate entities to engage in appropriate social network roles.  For example, providing strong reasons with incentives to engage in needed goal striving or system supporting can help trigger and sustain such role activation.  You can look at the literature on attitude and behavior change in social and organizational psychology and decision sciences for scientifically-based techniques for further details.  Behavioral reasoning theory provides one approach.

7. Reduce network resistance from goal preventers and supportive resistors. Enacting sanctions or disincentives can help mitigate such activation.  Environmental approaches, such as reducing contact, or resource restriction may thwart P and V efforts as well, although one should be careful when purposely excluding entities in the network, especially if those entities have multiplex linkages that include system support. Exclusion is a strong tactic that can have unintended consequences, such as escalating system negation linkages as illustrated further below.

8. Reduce dysfunctional system negation, such as providing learning resources, training, coaching, or counseling to network entities that are emitting significant system negation linkages to others (N), or, in more extreme cases, anger management training.  Reducing contact between entities is another option in more extreme cases when volitional change seems improbable.  Techniques to reduce system negation may not only help reduce interpersonal conflict and trigger an emergent positive climate, it can also help a person’s own psychological state.  That is, individuals may be less distracted by negative emotions in their lives when they better learn to self-regulate and control them.

9. Improve entities’ capacities to generate constructive system reactance when confronting conflict.  These system reactance (R) linkages could help reduce conflict from goal preventing (P), supportive resisting (V), and system negating (N) roles, if they exist in a system.  Promoting compassion, empathy, and active listening may help increase abilities to generate constructive system reactance.

10. Discover network inefficiencies, where poor performance linkages are impacting the system. Aim to improve goal pursuit processes, such as through improved operations management, feedback flow and process, and improved network motivation roles.  One can also try to find more optimal network connectivity to further the goal or mission, such as when a friend introduces you to another person that can help you achieve your goal.  A powerful new system support (S) connection would be brokered in the system, filling a potential previous structural hole, an important concept in traditional social network analysis.

11. Make progress on the goal, aiming for achievement.  Small steps can often end in overall triumph as long as the goal is not tightly bound by time.  Making progress also illustrates the importance of not overly procrastinating, a common problem for many people in many pursuits.  System supporters in the network that hear or learn about poor performance (or procrastination) can try to constructively re-trigger purposeful and needed goal pursuit in the network.

12. Experience the positive network rippling of emotions, when significant progress or achievement is attained.  Celebrate successes among partner goal strivers (G) and system supporters (S) along the way to foster emergent positive climates. However, it is important to be mindful of potential envy dynamics in the larger system when contemplating big celebrations, in case some entities in the pursuit were upset (N) with others involved in the system.  A celebration among those entities may not be well received and actually cause more system negation (N). In such cases, it is important to be sensitive to sub-group dynamics and consider more private or individualized celebrations among the more exclusive supporters.

13. Be mindful of distal causes of system outcomes, such as from larger environmental, resource, or strong situational factors. This illustrates the importance of thinking about multi-level interventions over various time spans. See the underlying processes page in the theory section for various antecedents that can impact complex systems.

14. Use caution if rejection strategies are contemplated.  While some situations seem justified, such as when restraining orders are factually grounded in a violent network resistance context, in other cases, it can become more complex to exclude people with unintended, but predictable consequences.  For example, excluding someone that has positive (S) and negative (N) multiplex linkages to another’s goal pursuit could result in the person getting even more upset (N) by the exclusion and escalating and cascading the conflict (P, V, and N) to a larger multi-goal prevention system (e.g., a person that is sometimes supportive and sometimes critical now feels more upset about the system and may try to obstruct other goals or interests in retaliation).  Considerable research demonstrates a variety of negative psychological outcomes when people feel excluded from desired activities.  Careful considerations are needed to weigh the benefits of inclusion (a person may feel welcomed) and costs of inclusion (a person may introduce system negation to other supporters and impact negative climates of the local clique).  This can also be compared to the possible benefits of exclusion (reducing N contagion) and the costs of exclusion (escalating conflicts).

15. Gather information about intervention processes and outcomes.  Compare this information to original predictions, learn about discrepancies, and adapt the interventions when the system has clearly stalled or regressed. But note, it is often wise to not act too early in some new interventions in case motivated entities need enough time to get their activities mobilized. Otherwise, changing roles too quickly can backfire for those trying to intervene in the first place (e.g., “Why don’t you give us a chance with what we just started?”).  There's a delicate and dynamic balance of maintaining commitment with regulating change. Having good information from network goal analysis can help the evaluation.

16. Facilitate participation in decision making, when reasonable, to secure new commitments. Fundamental decisions are often based on desires for justifiable reasons and research shows how procedural justice helps promote positive change. Thus, involvement and participation in decision making is often helpful to secure system support in complex systems. This also helps entities learn why various actions are occurring and provides psychological reassurance. However, it is important to be mindful that what is considered “just” often depends on the type of social network roles and goals activated, especially when conflict exists in a dynamic network system. Openness to why various perspectives are taken, but not necessarily openness to all actions, such as unethical ones, may help increase understanding and the ability of network entities to generate constructive system reactance that helps the well-being of the entire system.  One other note: Even though increasing participation is often helpful, it can sometimes add to inefficiencies if it creates unneeded distractions.  For example, someone deciding to do a safe individual hobby is unlikely going to need a lot of participation to enact the goal. It would be superfluous to do so.

17. Consider sub-group structures. When networks start growing to help achieve goals, leaders that design efficient sub-group structures can help promote achievement in the system.  This can also help simplify complexities, making the system more easily understood by all of those involved.  This is commonly seen in flourishing organizations when they form, grow, or restructure.

18. Be around interactants and observers that share similar goals or values, especially when intrinsic interest in the goal may be waning. The positive energy observed in others engaged in similar goals can be implicitly triggered in the self (e.g., studying in the library around others instead of alone at home). However, such increases in peripheral connections should not result in over-distraction, if high performance is the goal.

19. Contemplate increasing dynamic network intelligence, when it's unlikely to threaten the system.  Otherwise, trying to discover others’ intentionally private social network roles can backfire (e.g., “you’re being nosey"), causing system negation in some cases (e.g., "that's none of your business"). More generally, trying to visualize the network dynamics from other people's perspectives can often help us better understand our systems and help us create interventions that create positive change for those involved. Also, accurately knowing which system factors are controllable (or not) can help intervention designs. For example, some beliefs, personality orientations, physiological limits, or macro-economic factors can make some systems difficult, if not impossible, to change. However, even if one entity has difficulty changing, the power of network goal thinking often lies with getting others to engage in new goal striving or system supporting roles. And new technologies can make what was impossible today possible tomorrow. Managing the power of hope and motivation with the probabilities of realism is key.

20. Be mindful of unintended consequences. Making a change in one dynamic network system may impact processes in another, given that systems are often interconnected. For example, many people have multiple goals that are interconnected, hierarchical, or even conflicting.  Hence, having dynamic network intelligence about your various systems, when planning a change, may help you anticipate reactions more broadly over time.  Also, people should not be surprised to find that implementing a new goal or intervention in their lives may not only result in powerful network motivation, but also network resistance and system negation, because some entities in the network may feel uncomfortable about any change, even small ones.  In some cases, increasing participation in decision making may help alleviate system worries in advance, when possible.  Additionally, the increased network motivation around the goal can result in eventual achievement, positive climates, and the network rippling of positions emotions that could transform earlier resistance and negation into system support.

21. Be system aware, but goal focused.  Being an observer (O) of your system and gathering feedback (FB) can help you further adjust the system to aid changes and subsequent performance, climates, and well-being.  Our Lab’s computerized reports of dynamic network systems provide a full and comprehensive view, grounded in a precise theoretical formulation.  However, it is important to balance the observation and learning about the system with staying focused on the goal (G) and needed support (S), especially with high competence. Just watching and learning about a system is not enough, engaging in efficient and strategically helpful roles with competence is key. 

Many other strategies can also be generated using concepts in the theory, depending on the nature of one's dynamic network system in specific cases.


Copyright (C). James D. Westaby.  All rights reserved.


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