New article: Networks in Public Administration in PMR

CoverSheet PMR articleMy co-authors Jesse Lecy (GSU), Hans Peter Schmitz (SU) and I have published an article in Public Management Review:

Lecy, J., Mergel, I., Schmitz, H. P. (2013): Networks in Public Administration, published online DOI:10.1080/14719037.2012.743577, in: Public Management Review. [Link to pre-publication version on SSRN]

Here is the abstract:

Network-focused research in public administration has expanded rapidly over the past two decades. This rapid growth has created come confusion about terminology and approaches to research in the field. We organize the network literature in public administration using compact citation networks to identify coherent subdomains focused on (1) policy formation, (2) governance and (3) policy implementation. We trace how these domains differ in their approach to defining the role of networks, relationships and actors and to what extent the articles apply formal network analysis techniques. Based on a subsequent content analysis of the sample articles, we identify promising research avenues focused on the wider adoption of methods derived from social network analysis and the conditions under which networks actually deliver improved results.

Please email me in case you want to read the article!

New article out: “Connecting to Congress: The Use of Twitter by Members of Congress


How do political elites, such as the Members of the U.S. Congress, decide to use innovative forms of Information and Communication Technologies, such as social media applications? Communication between elected officials is guides by outdated rules and regulations that are focusing on paper mailings. The apparent lack of formal guidance and outdated rules are not reflecting the changing online landscape and the requirements on Members of Congress to interact with their constituents where they prefer to receive their information. New forms of highly interactive online communication tools, such as the microblogging service Twitter are challenging the existing information paradigm. Using the first year of tweets posted by Members of Congress in combination with qualitative interviews with congressional offices show that the Members are mainly using Twitter to complement their existing push communication style and automatically distribute vetted content via Twitter, using the Microblogging service as an additional communication channel for their individual appearances and issues. The awareness network among tweeting Members specifically shows that the potential for interactive conversations are not harnessed. Finally, Twitter’s potential as an innovative mode for future democratizing interactions is discussed.

Suggested citation:

Mergel, I. (2012): “Connecting to Congress”: Twitter use among Members of Congress, Zeitschrift fuer Politikberatung – Policy Advice and Political Consulting, 3/2012, pp. 108-114.

Link to the open access version on the journal’s homepage.

Book announcement: “Studying Social Networks”

I am happy to announce a new book “Studying Social Networks”. I was honored to be a co-author on this book with Marina Hennig, Ulrik Brandes, and Juergen Pfeffer who took on a leading role publishing the book. It’s available on in February 2013 and will be distributed by Chicago University Press. In Europe it can already be ordered via (in English!).

The idea of the book was to create a guide for new researchers in the area of social networks to help them start a research project using social network analysis to analyze their data. It can also be used as a textbook for beginner and as well as advanced social network analysis classes in social sciences.

The blurb says: “This textbook provides an introduction to the process of empirical network research. In an action-oriented approach, it features explicated learning goals, numerous reference examples, and exercises that facilitate successful learning. Integrating their different disciplinary perspectives, the authors address an interdisciplinary audience of teachers, researchers, and practitioners alike.”

New paper out: Forming and norming social media adoption in the corporate sector

Together with Gabriel Mugar and Mohammad Jarrahi (both PhD students at Syracuse Univerity’s iSchool, I just published a new paper with the title: Forming and norming social media adoption in the corporate sector. It’s available online. Here is the full citation:

Mergel, I., Mugar, G., Jarrahri, M. H. (2012): Forming and norming social media adoption in the corporate sector, ACM Proceedings of the 2012 iConference, New York, NY, doi>10.1145/2132176.2132196.

What a Twitter map can and cannot tell: The Gates Foundation Twitter network

The Twitter network below was created by Marc Smith, Social Media Research Foundation. He used it in a recent workshop on Social Media Network Analysis that I organized here at Syracuse University on January 19-20.  I picked it up and posted it here on my Social Media in the Public Sector blog, because it relates to the Global Health Advocacy and Policy Project (GHAPP), PI Jeremy Shiffman (American University). It is a Gates-funded project I’m involved in to study the global public health issue networks. From the project website:

The team is investigating six global health policy communities — networks of individuals and organizations linked by a shared concern for a public health issue. The aim is to develop generalizable knowledge concerning why some networks are more effective than others in generating resources and attention, facilitating national policy adoption and supporting the scale-up of interventions. 

This specific Twitter network was created by Marc Smith tracking the keyword “gatesfoundation” among Twitter users on January [Please visit Marc Smith’s Flickr page with a full description of the process and statistic]. It shows Twitter users who have actively chosen “gatesfoundation” either as a hashtag in their tweets, retweeted a message from the @gatesfoundation Twitter account or mentioned other users’ messages. In our workshop, Marc used the Gates Foundation Twitter network as a way to contrast two different types of networks: brand networks vs. broadcasting networks.

The brand network, where many Twitter users are over and over using and re-using the same keyword independent of each other, results in a tight knit community around a specific hashtag. As an example, Coca Cola or Nike have become brand networks.

The Twitter network that resulted in the attached graph is clearly a broadcasting network originating from the official @gatesfoundation account. Messages and connection radiate in a star formation out to other Twitter users.

This can have many different reasons:

  1. Gates is mainly seen in an authoritative role: broadcasting studies, press releases, etc., but nonprofits, advocates, policy makers, etc. are choosing not to actively interact with the Foundation’s Twitter account online.
  2. The mission of Gates is to promote global public health and so they might want to use Twitter solely to educate their audience and are part of issue network conversations in other types of contexts or through other channels.
  3. Another possible interpretation is that Gates does not see itself as an integral part of the global health community – instead it relatively passively pushes out content without being part of follow-up conversations in local issue network.

What this network can tell:

  1. The overall structure of the network can potentially tell how an organization’s communication strategy is aligned with its mission fulfillment: Does the organization reach into the diverse audiences it is trying to access? Do audiences have the right information an organization aims to provide?
  2. The network also tells a story of how connected or disconnected an organization is online: If no one pays attention to the messages the Gates Foundation is promoting, the foundation needs to carefully think about its engagement strategy and effectiveness in reaching into diverse audiences.

What this network map cannot tell:

  1. This one-time snapshot of a very short period of just one day of tweets among a limited amount of Twitter users can’t make any generalized statements about the overall communication strategy or even the Gates Foundation’s overall Twitter strategy. Recreating the map on a daily basis including world events, crisis situtions, large funding announcements, etc., will provide a more comprehensive picture over time.
  2. The Gates Foundation keyword might also be used in combination with other keywords highlighting the global health priority targets Gates is working on, such as diarrhea, new born survival, maternal health, obesity, tuberculosis, etc. The network might look very different and in fact might reveal insights into how Gates engages online in specific issue networks.
  3.  This snapshot of Twitter messages cannot make any statements about the content of the tweets. Do retweeted messages show endorsement – based on the mere fact that people were willing to share? Or do they retweet and add their own negative/positive comments to the original message? A deep dive with the help of natural language processing or other types of content analysis are necessary to make a statement about the sentiments within different parts of the overall network is necessary.


























Blog post was picked up by:

1. Geekwire: “Gates Foundation’s Tweets reveal passive, insular global health community“, 02/01/2012

2. KPLU 88.5, NPR affialiate:” Gates Fdn’s Tweets reveal passive, insular global health community, 02/01/2012″

#FedTweets network going strong…

Yesterday, I created the first #FedTweets Twitter network and shared the relatively sparse initial set of connections. It included only the organizers and speakers and a few others who were talking about the webinar and advertising it to their own networks.

Today, Justin Herman (Phase One Consulting), Scott Horvath (Web and Social Media Chief at USGS), Tammie Marcoullier (Program Manager at GSA), and Stacey Palosky (Public Affairs Officer at U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission) presented their insights on how they use Twitter in their agencies. The presenters encouraged the participants to heavily use the #FedTweets hashtag and keep the conversation going beyond the one hour live encounter.

Here is the result (network created with NodeXL):

FedTweets_PartII by inesmergel
FedTweets_PartII, a photo by inesmergel on Flickr.

Social Media Network Analysis workshop with Marc Smith, January 19-20th at Syracuse University

This week, Marc Smith, Chief Social Scientist at Connected Action and a social media researcher at the Social Media Research Foundation will teach a two-day Social Media Network Analysis workshop with NodeXL at Syracuse University. I received support from several departments at the Maxwell School, iSchool, Engineering school and our NSF Advance Institutional Transformation grant to organize this event and am very grateful that Marc is willing to travel to Syracuse during this time of year! So far 25 academics have signed up, among them faculty, postdocs and PhD students from the participating schools on campus.

Here is Marc’s announcement from the SMRF blog:

I will speak and lead a workshop on social media network analysis at Syracuse University on the 19th and 20th of January, 2012.

Ines Mergel is my host.  Prof. Mergel is Assistant Professor of Public Administration, Department of Public Administration and International Affairs, and a Senior Research Associate at the Center for Technology and Information Policy at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, NY.

I will speak about the patterns we are finding in the data collected and analyzed by NodeXL.


My personal research interest in this workshop is to analyze observable social media tactics of government organizations and triangulate the data with qualitative data I collected from interviews with social media professionals in government. Social media network analysis can help to gain insights into the reuse of information published by government agencies, the structure of their followers and the pathways messages take through a Twitter or Facebook network. My idea is to trace impact and effectiveness of government engagement on social media applications beyond quantitative numbers of followers or messages.


Marc has recently analyzed the #MyResearch Twitter hashtag I started to follow that was initiated by Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega @raulpacheco, at UBC. Academics started to use the hashtag a few days ago and messages indicate that by connecting through a common hashtag people started to talk about joint research interests and may start collaborations:


Google Ripples: Social network analysis in real time

Google Plus has recently added a new feature to every post: “View ripples“. Click on the drop down menu (arrow down) next to a post and look for the last menue item “view ripples”. In order for this functionality to work a post had to be shared (at least once) by other readers. The result is an instant social network analysis: starting with the original poster as the node in the middle with his outdegree connections indicating each node who has reshared the post out to his or her own network.

Besides the really neat network graphic, Google Plus also offers a few descriptive statistics, such as the names of those who serve as “influencers” in the network and the number of times their own repost was shared, plus a few numbers such as average (chain) path length (the number of times the post was reshared), the longest chain, and the shares/hour. Google calls the influencers in the network “sharing hubs”. The only downside I see right now is that you can’t ripple your own posts. Too bad!

Here is a public post by Pete Cashmore, founder of, including those of his public followers who shared the post and the descriptive statistic at the bottom of the page:

New working paper: Tying the network together

David Lazer (Northeastern & Harvard University) and I have just posted a new working paper titled “Tying the network together – Evaluating the Impact of an Intervention into the Advice Network of Public Managers“. It’s up on the Social Science Research Network for comments. We are in the process of making some substantial changes to it, but would love to hear your feedback!

Here is the abstract:

Networks are often see as emergent and self managed; and yet much of the research on networks examines how networks affect the effectiveness of systems and individuals. Is it possible to intervene in the configuration of a network to improve how it functions? Here we evaluate the impact of an intervention to change the array of relationships connecting a set of distributed public managers—State Health Officials (SHOs). SHOs were brought together for a one week executive educational program near the beginning of their tenures. This paper evaluates the question as to whether this program had long run effects on the ties among SHOs. Using a combination of survey and interview data, we find that there is a substantial effect on the probability of ties between individuals that attend the program together, relative to individuals who attend the program in different cohorts. Given recent findings that highlight the importance of interpersonal networks in the effectiveness of individual managers, this suggests a potential role for interventions to improve the efficiency of dispersed, public sector manager to manager networks.

Lazer, David and Mergel, Ines A., Tying the Network Together: Evaluating the Impact of an Intervention into the Advice Network of Public Managers (July 8, 2011). Available at SSRN:

Social media network panel at #pmrc2011

On June 2-4, 2011, the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University has hosted the biannual Public Management Research Conference. You can find full papers on the conference program page.

I was part of Panel 20 “Social Media Networks” together with Professors Jane Fountain (UMass Amherst) and David Landsbergen (Ohio State). Jane presented here theoretical framework on how technology can introduce change into government organizations: “Layering in Public Management: Stability and Change in Digitally Mediated Institutions“. It provided a great framework for the following papers (kudos to the program committee).

I presented my study with the title “A Mandate for Change”: Diffusion of Social Media Technologies Among Federal Departments and Agencies“. In this paper, I present first findings of my interviews with Social Media Directors from the Executive branch of the U.S. federal government. The aim in this paper is to understand how and why social media directors make the decision to adopt social media practices. The Open Government and Transparency memo provided the motivation for this question: The memo states explicitly that government has to become more participatory, transparent and collaborative – and to harness new technologies to accomplish this goal. The memo itself is a very broad mandate and in the first two years public managers had very little formal guidance to understand what best practices are, how to organize day-to-day practices, how to fit the use of social media into the existing mission and standard operating procedures when communicating information. Given this lack of formal guidance, I found that public managers are looking at their informal network and use what I call their passive attention network. They are looking at other agencies and departments and emulate practices from other agencies. Based on this finding, I was also able to tease out three different adoption pathways for the use of social media applications: 1) Representation and broadcasting (push); 2) Engagement (pull); and 3) Networking and mingling.

Open questions, that I will address in other papers will include: a) Measuring impact of social media activities; b) Organizational change for the use of social media practices; c) Necessary organizational capabilities for the use of social media applications. I have also collected data from social media directors in the non-profit sector and the corporate sector, so that I will be able to write a comparative study on the use of social media applications.

The last panelist, Professor David Landsbergen (Ohio State), presented a research and teaching project in which he analyzed social media policies of nine cities. What I observed – and received proof for with David’s presentation – was that while the federal government has now access to guidance, such as or the Federal Web Managers Forum, local government officials are struggling immensely with the use of social media applications. There is no guidance, it is unclear to what extent the use of social media makes sense, what the right tools are for what kind of activities, etc.

We will keep the conversation going and are submitting another panel proposal to the upcoming ASPA 2012 conference in Las Vegas.