How can you tell if your referrals are working? Map them!

You're part of a network of services that relies on referrals for efficient client service—employment supports, perhaps, or health services, or community services for youth or for homeless people or people with mental illness. It’s your job as a group of services or agencies to make sure people access the services they need efficiently and appropriately.

Perhaps it's working well. Perhaps it's not.  How can you tell? How can you improve?

Network mapping helps you to visualize referral patterns

Network mapping creates pictures of referral patterns so you can explore what's happening, show off your successes, and pinpoint any opportunities to improve.

We begin by asking you about your network goals:
•    Are you worried that certain services are abundant while others are missed?
•    Are some population groups falling through the cracks?
•    Are there regions which are generously served or underserved?

Answers to questions in this section help give meaning to the referral data we collect later in the survey.

It starts with a survey

Network maps are most useful when a high proportion of a network's members participate, so we try to get as high a response rate to the survey as possible.
We begin with a survey of network members themselves, and might ask questions about:
•    services that each organization provides.
•    population groups that are served or targeted.
•    geographic areas covered—parts of a city, municipalities in a region, etc.
•    size of the organization. Is it one person? A large institution?
•    age of the organization. Is it new? Has it been around for 20 years?

Do you already know this information?  Great! We can put it straight into the dataset instead of asking questions.

We then ask questions about the referrals in your network:
•    We find it is most accurate to ask this question backwards, "How often does <organization> refer clients TO YOU?"  
This prevents respondents from over-answering, "Hmm, I sent someone there once, so I'll say yes!" and thus gives a clearer picture.

Maps show patterns

Once we've collected all the survey responses we can possibly collect, we're at the fun part: creating network maps and helping tease out the information that the network will find useful.

Using the referral data and the survey information about network members, we look for referral patterns that make sense, some that are surprising and some that could be improved.

We try to learn about the stories behind the maps, such as:

  • Why do certain members on the map have no connections?   
    • Is it true, or did they simply fail to answer the survey?


  • Do current referral patterns make sense, for example:
    • Member A refers only annually to Member B?
    • Member C receives frequent referrals from many other members although they have only 2 staff members?

By mapping your referral patterns, you can demonstrate the great work you’re already doing, and plan for more effective referrals in the future.