3 Modes of Network Data Collection

Researchers have a variety of options for implementing the actual sampling and measuring of social network data within the parameters of the principles laid out in Chapter Chapter 2. This chapter outlines the basic orientations underlying those various possibilities and provides some illustrative examples of each. Specific platforms for collecting data are often connected to technology (e.g., recently including phones and tablets into digital surveys). If we carry on with the cooking class metaphor, new technologies don’t change the principles from the previous chapter. The introduction of a microwave, sous-vide immersion cooker, or anti-griddle don’t change the fact that the combination of ingredients, temperature, determine whether we achieve our desired results. Instead they provide new ways to put those factors together, each prioritizing their combinations in different ways. Similarly, the modes of social network data collection described below each must deal with questions of measurement, sampling and boundary specification raised in Chapter Chapter 2; they’ll just each offer slightly different prioritization among the possible choices to make within those dimensions.

Given that technologies available can change at a rapid pace, this chapter focuses less on providing a comprehensive overview of existing data collection instruments, and more on identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the principles that differentiate between the options described. The goal is to help you identify existing modes of data collection that will work for your projects, or to identify how you can best develop one that will suit your needs.51

Roughly, the majority of strategies for collecting social network data can be divided by whether the research subjects themselves are actively or passively involved in the data collection process. Active involvement entails research participants directly providing the data, e.g., through completing an online survey or participating in an interview. Passive involvement includes a number of strategies where participants’ information is gathered without their active involvement (e.g., through observation, retrieval from archival sources, etc.).52

The first two sections that follow separately present a number of example studies that gather network data involving participants actively and passively, respectively. The approaches described in these two sections reflect a focus on simple networks, which entail gathering a single relationship, among a single node type, at a single time point. Following that, I discuss a number of orientations to gathering what is sometimes referred to as complex network data (Hogan 2017b). Complex network data are multiplex, multimode, or multidimensional in other ways (e.g., multiple time slices, or reports).