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Building Economic Development Networks in Detroit: A Comparison of Methods of Social Network Analysis, Working Paper 045 Open Access

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The use of social network analysis, which explores personal networks among individuals, has expanded across a number of disciplines because it makes substantial contributions about relationships underlying collaborative efforts. It also provides information on how information travels and on the most important actors in a network. While there has been some work applying social network analysis to economic development policy, the opportunity exists to make greater use of this tool, especially as recognition grows about the importance of networks for successful policy. The Detroit region (here defined as the city plus the counties of Wayne, Washtenaw, Oakland, and Macomb) provides an ideal setting for a test of social network analysis in economic development policymaking. During the previous century, southeastern Michigan experienced decades of extreme growth followed by slower but no less extreme decline. Both the causes – the rise and fall of the automobile industry – and its consequences – a pocket of poverty in an emptying city surrounded by more resilient suburbs – are well-known. For the last several decades, there have been conscious efforts by elected officials, philanthropic individuals and organizations, advocacy institutions, universities and community colleges, average citizens, and others to renew Detroit; many of these programs have been multi-actor efforts uniting different organizations and people in an attempt to change the city’s conditions. There has also been a growing recognition that the suburban communities need to work with those in the city of Detroit in order to focus on the region, rather than on individual cities or townships. This paper will apply two methods of social network analysis – board interlock theory and a survey of economic development policymakers – to the Detroit region, and compare the results produced. Looking at the networks among board members in the corporate, nonprofit, and foundation communities in the region demonstrates how information and new ideas can be transmitted among a region’s influential actors, while survey results offer information about the existing networks among policymakers and how such networks may be strengthened. These methods analyze slightly different questions related to social networks; both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, and the choice between the two can involve a trade - off between the types of networks considered, accuracy, and the time and resources involved.

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