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Mapping vital connections between food programs in Tasmania

Project title: Prevention Tracker

Project lead: Dr Therese Riley

10 May 2017

Methods used to map social networks developed by Prevention Tracker team have led to new investment in a local food program in Tasmania.

Social network analysis (SNA) is the mapping and measuring of relationships and information flows between people, groups and organisations. It is a relatively new approach to evaluating projects in public health and had not previously been used in the nutrition space in Tasmania.

The idea to apply it to food system programs came when the Heart Foundation’s Leah Galvin saw it in action while participating in the Prevention Tracker pilot in Glenorchy.

“I loved the concept and I thought it might be an interesting way to measure the impact of food system programs in Tasmania,” said Ms Galvin, who at the time was running the Heart Foundation’s Healthy Food Access Tasmania project.

Picture of complexity

“These methods provided a visually powerful expression of the complexity of food system programs, the way different agencies were connected, and where the resource gaps lay.”

Supported by the Prevention Tracker team, the Heart Foundation teamed up with the University of Tasmania to adapt the methods to identify relationships between 32 local food programs working to meet the food needs of low-income individuals across the state.

The final report showed individual programs where their organisation fitted into the network, and which connections could be critical to their own effectiveness.

As a result, one community-level program was able to leverage ongoing funding due to its importance in the system as a connector and information source for other organisations.

Sandy Murray, of the University of Tasmania, said the Prevention Centre had encouraged capacity building around social network analysis. “In my wildest dreams I would never have thought I could manage my way around a social network analysis, or even consider it, because it’s just not being used in public health nutrition,” she said.

“It is a valuable tool to identify connections, networks and frequencies, and it sets the foundation for further exploration into nature of relationships between groups,” Ms Murray said. “Its full value can be achieved when it incorporates qualitative elements such as the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ of the relationships in addition to the who is linked to who.”

READ MORE: about Prevention Tracker.