CTF Blog: Visualizing actor networks from the customer perspective2020-03-11
Imagine you are a service provider, let’s say in healthcare. You know that service delivery is complex because many actors (e.g., patients, their friends and family, their general practitioners, their insurance providers, doctors, nurses etc.) need to interact. To get an overview of all the actors involved and their interdependencies, you usually try to visualize this network of actors. However, the tools at your disposal usually don’t take a customer perspective or, if they do, they use a predefined template which confines the position of the customer in the visualization. Imagine, what kind of insights you are missing when you do not allow the customer to freely represent the network.
In this research project, we have attempted to do just that: understand how customers make sense of the complex networks that surround them when they are provided services. We collected data from people aged 65 and older who were in good health but were starting to have difficulties living independently. These people needed daily support from their network which included informal (e.g., family and friends) and formal (e.g., doctors, nurses) caregivers. We interviewed them to better understand how they perceive the network of actors supporting them. Rather than using predefined templates to visualize the network, we gave our interviewees a blank sheet of paper and a deck of cards. Each card represented a typical actor in the network, but we made sure to leave some cards empty in case an important actor was not featured on one of our cards. We asked our interviewees to freely place the actor cards on the blank sheet of paper and represent the network of actors in whatever way they see fit. Our interviewees placed the cards on the papers and drew connections between the different cards.
We were surprised to see that contrary to our expectations, our elderly informants represented their networks in different ways. Indeed, some embraced the typical network visualization that puts the service recipient in the center of the network with all the relevant actors gravitating around him or her (we call that a centralized network). Others however, constructed the network as a hierarchy in which they were on the top and different layers of actors followed with informal caregiver being closer than formal caregivers (we call that a hierarchical network). Most interestingly, some respondents put all the actor cards close to each-other in a tight knit block (we call that a bundled network).
Intrigued by the different visualizations, we started analyzing the narratives around each visualization. This led us to some interesting findings. It seems that elderly people who visualized their network as a bundle, emphasized the importance of family, love, belongingness, togetherness and comfort, or what we labeled as “emotional values”. Those who visualized their network as a hierarchy focused on practical help, security, organization, power, and order, which we labeled “functional values”. Finally, those who visualized their network as centralized, focused on connectedness, communication, socialization, entertainment and a meaningful life, that we labeled with “social values”.
Now we know that service recipients have different ways of visualizing the network of actors providing the service and that each type of visualization is characterized by a dominant type of value. With these insights we can personalize services to resonate better with the different types of values or connections depicted in the visualizations.
Čaić, M., Holmlid, S., Mahr, D., & Odekerken-Schröder, G. (2019). Beneficiaries’ view of actor networks: Service resonance for pluralistic actor networks. International Journal of Design, 13(3), 69-88.
Postdoctoral researcher at CTF