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.

30 January 2017

Whole of Community Engagement Initiative

Whole of Community Engagement Initiative

The Whole of Community Engagement (WCE) initiative has been operating through the Office of the Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous Leadership at Charles Darwin University for the past two and half years.

23 January 2017

Evaluating WCE

We have been working hard with our partners and stakeholders to get feedback and to document and share our key findings and achievements.

Charles Darwin UniversityAustralian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges & EducationBatchelor InstituteNAILSMANTG

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