New study to analyze the Redes network

February 25, 2009. Set for launch in early 2009, a national Redes En Acción public awareness campaign will encourage Latinos to learn more about how they can protect themselves from cancer.

Research examining the Redes En Acción nationwide network and its effectiveness is placing the initiative at the forefront of organizational network analysis and evaluation at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

A leading authority in the field of network science, Noshir Contractor, PhD, Professor of Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University, is spearheading the effort. Dr. Contractor is the Director of the Science of Networks in Communities Research Group at Northwestern.

"The fun thing here is that (Redes En Acción) is one of the first projects…that I know the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is very interested in because it's actually looking at ways of analyzing and evaluating it as a network, not as individuals," Dr. Contractor said at the latest Redes En Acción National Steering Committee meeting.

"So methodologically, this goes beyond just the study of Redes – it’s becoming an example of something that will be seen as an example for other projects."

In describing the nuts and bolts of the project and its significance to NCI and NIH, Dr. Contractor said the study will begin with a survey involving 170 "core members" of Redes En Acción who will provide information in various areas, including communication within the network, type and quality of experiences while in the network, and perceived efficacy of Redes communication media/channels.

"We’ve heard about the "Redes ripple effect," he said, "so you want to see how much you can measure that, how much people perceive that, and to what extent do individuals in the network feel invigorated and empowered by the opportunity to exchange information with like-minded individuals."

Amelie G. Ramirez, DrPH, Redes Principal Investigator, said the overall goal of the study is to analyze, visualize and interpret results of the Redes effect among the network of individuals, organizations, projects and key research topics engaged in research relevant to the National Hispanic/Latino Cancer Network.

"The analysis will correlate outcome / success metrics, such as funding, publishing and outreach, to global network characteristics as well as network characteristics of individuals," she said.

"We want to see and analyze to what extent the network is driving certain outcomes," Dr. Contractor added, "whether it's at the individual level or at the global network level.

"You want to look at how the network itself evolves, changes, and the dynamics associated with that. And, of course, the network in this case is individuals, organizations, projects and key relevant areas of research for the Latino cancer network."

Dr. Contractor described what he termed “a 3-D view” of the Redes network:

  • Discovery: Effectively and efficiently foster network links from people to other people, knowledge and artifacts (data sets / streams, analytic tools, visualization tools, documents, etc.)
  • Diagnosis: Assess the “health” of networks in terms of scanning, absorptive capacity, diffusion, robustness and vulnerability to external environment
  • Design: Rewire networks using social and organizational incentives and network referral systems to enhance evolving and mature communities

The goal of a possible second phase of the research project will be to generate data that can be used to populate a portal (Latino Cancer Network Cyber-infrastructure) to provide community members the opportunity to find resources, expert finders and referrals on resources (e.g., people, datasets, documents, analytic tools, instruments and protocols).