Weak Ties

Out walking the dog this morning, I didn’t feel like listening to music. I popped on a TED talk, from Maria Bezaitis on the surprising need for strangeness.  Bezaitis  is a data engineer for Intel, and talks about the need for us to interact with a range of people to come up with new ideas. Nothing really new, but interesting all the same. One thing that stood out to me was when she spoke early on about the strength of weak ties, and their value of diffusing and disseminating information, and how strong ties may also act in a counter way. She refers to a sociologically seminal paper by Mark Granovetter in 1973, an early proponent of social network analysis, called the Strength of Weak Ties

This got me thinking, as we went around the lake. (Having a boy dog is useful for thinking, as he needs to stop at every tree and fence post). The interest I’ve developed in social capital talks of bonding, bridging and linking social capital, with bridging and linking social capital tending to rely upon weak ties or weaker ties than bonding social capital.

My initial reaction to this theory, is Oh, strong bonding and bridging social capital is important, and worth developing and investing in. Weak ties are not so important. But on reflection, from what she was saying, these weak ties are important in both preparedness and recovery.

If there are people that we don’t know that well, but nevertheless trust, then they are important conduits of information. During the drought in the 90s/00s, the Grampians Community Health Service and Wimmera United Care proposed training hairdressers in personal support. I was initially sceptical, and being the good public servant, worried that it wouldn’t be good use of public money etc etc. When the value of doing the training was pointed out to me, it made a whole lot of sense, what do people do when they go to hairdressers. Talk. What do hairdressers do?. Ask Questions. Talk. When people have things on their mind they talk. If hairdressers were able to absorb, and listen and respond appropriately, then we would be providing good informal support, in a setting where people are really proud, and don’t open up. So it was funded, and was hailed as being successful by locals.

So, it feels a little bit counter intuitive. When we are focussing upon recovery, our focus tends to be on the strong bonds, and how to support them through the crisis, ignoring the weak ties. Both are important in different ways, and the weak ties, the hairdressers, the football coach, the barista, stock and station agent, may be more influential with a well placed throwaway line. Strong ties may also impede people from taking action. “I want to appear strong amongst my family and friends”, and so we need to recognise this as well.

Our planning should focus on both elements, and look how to influence and access different ties to support people through recovery.  I think we have come a long way in this regard, the Psycho-social Support Strategy for the Black Saturday Bushfires certainly recognised this. It took the Queenslanders a while to get there, from the early drafts of their strategy that I saw, and the Cantabrians are doing this well with All Right. It’s just another one of those left of centre, not so obvious things we need be tuned into for recovery.

Anyway, the podcast finished (TED Talks are cool, not too long), and the weak tie between Archie the dog and I became a strong one, as I put him on the lead to head home.

THe Ties That Bind: Bruce Springsteen

2 thoughts on “Weak Ties

  1. Completely agree JR. That’s why we sent the gang to sit in bakeries, talk to publicans and store owners etc…

    Besides, weak ties get a bad wrap, especially those polyester ones…


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