Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Social networks can inform public policy

Jason Fletcher

Available online

How Can Social Networks Affect Policy Effects?


Policy analyses and program evaluations need to account for people's social networks, professor Jason Fletcher argues in an article in the spring La Follette Policy Report.

"To understand our own values and choices, we need to understand how the values and choices of those who are part of our social network think and behave," Fletcher says. "To understand whether policies work, we need to factor in how a program's effect on us influences the values and choices of others in our network. Similarly, we need to understand program impacts on other people so we gain insight into how those effects change our own values and choices."

Fletcher is a nationally recognized expert on social network analysis, which, at its core, is about relations and relationships between people. The approach draws on techniques from multiple disciplines, such as sociology, economics, mathematics and computer science, to calculate how networks transmit important information and resources.

Social network analysis is finding that interventions may have greater effects than first thought. For example, Fletcher notes, a re-examination of a smoking-cessation study, suggests helping one person stop smoking also may help that person's spouse quit.