Exploring the utility of social network analysis in remote indigenous education contexts: a case study from the whole of community engagement initiative

About the presentation


Social Network Analysis (SNA) is the methodical study of social networks. It is increasingly used in a range of interdisciplinary research contexts to examine the relationships between people, groups and organisations. The potential to use SNA for collaborative research projects is increasingly recognised, yet it has seldom been applied in projects set in remote Indigenous contexts, or in education research. We have commenced exploring this potential and will discuss how SNA has been applied through the Whole of Community Engagement (WCE) initiative at Charles Darwin University. This is a multi-site participatory action research project that uses a bottom-up community engagement approach with six remote Indigenous communities across the Northern Territory (NT). The primary aim is to build a deeper understanding of the aspirations of and opportunities for Indigenous learners. This is in concert with identifying potential levers for system improvement to promote Indigenous participation and achievement in higher education. We will explain the explorative process that has taken place to collectively identify the most appropriate and useful application of SNA within our research project. This includes intensive SNA training; consideration of ethical issues and the possibilities and limitations of SNA; data collection techniques to support SNA; and the identification of suitable SNA software (i.e. Gephi). We describe the methods used to map the diverse and emergent relationships developed between the WCE project team and individual people and organisations within the remote Indigenous community contexts. Using SNA diagrams we will show how relationships were mapped at the commencement, and throughout the implementation, of the WCE initiative community engagement process. We will use different examples to illustrate its utility. We encourage other educational researchers to consider the utility of SNA, particularly within Indigenous education research contexts. 


We collected data in our six remote communities about the relationships developed during the implementation of WCE initiative to develop:

  • Mapping contacts in five communities
  • Mapping voluntary board involvement in one community

While collecting data we took into consideration:

  • Number of meetings
  • Date
  • Person name
  • Role
  • Organisation name
  • Type of organisation
  • Indigenous/non-indigenous


We consider that SNA is a powerful analytical tool in the context of remote Indigenous education research focused on community engagement but it takes time to figure out what relationships are useful/meaningful to map.

An updated presentation with result from 2016 was presented on 11th November 2016 at the 2016 Indigenous Leaders Conference in Darwin

29 November 2017

Team Member Reflection: Terry Moore

Team Member Reflection: Terry Moore

​I joined the team in April 2016, just in time for the team meeting at Tennant Creek, where it was realised that the team needed someone to analyse the data that was being generated across the different communities.

Charles Darwin UniversityAustralian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges & EducationBatchelor InstituteNAILSMANTG

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