Network Canvas project has announced the release of stable versions of all three apps in its NIDA-supported software suite. Led by Third Coast CFAR members Drs. Michelle Birkett, Gregory Phillips II, and lead software architect Joshua Melville, Network Canvas is a free, open-source toolkit for collecting and managing social network data.

Network Canvas is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health (R01 DA042711) and is a collaboration between Northwestern University and the University of Oxford, managed out of Northwestern’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing.

The project aims to develop a highly-flexible, customizable tool to streamline the collection of complex structural data – data that are notoriously difficult to capture, but vital to understanding disparities in HIV and other diseases. “Rather than focusing solely on individual-level factors, Network Canvas allows researchers to capture data on the people and places with whom individuals are connected in order to gain a more nuanced understanding of the context in which they are embedded,” says Birkett.  

Over the last four years, the project has substantially refined the functionality, user interface (UI), and integration of its suite of tools to meet the needs of the research community. The software is developed to be responsive to all widely-used platforms and operating systems and provides an integrated workflow for researchers, regardless of technical expertise, who want agile control over their study from start to finish. 

In Architect, researchers design their own study protocol utilizing any combination of 13 configurable interfaces to capture the specific network data they require.

In Interviewer, researchers administer their study protocol to capture data directly from participants on intuitive, touch-optimized screens.

In Server, researchers manage the protocol deployment process to study devices and monitor and export study data for analysis. 

“We built Network Canvas to solve many of the barriers and challenges we faced in our own studies conducting network research,” says Phillips. “As an HIV epidemiologist, I am hopeful these tools will help researchers and practitioners pursue increasingly innovative questions about the impact of multilevel factors on disease spread, prevention strategies, and care continuum outcomes.”

Community engagement and uptake has been a central aim of Network Canvas development. The Suite is developed entirely open-source to ensure broad accessibility and to promote collaboration. The three Network Canvas applications leverage modern web technologies to facilitate ease of use and draw on Human-Computer Interaction principles to provide a visually engaging, tactile interview experience for participants. By incorporating feedback from the field and developing robust training materials to support new users, Network Canvas hopes to lower some of the barriers to engaging in cutting-edge network science.

The multidisciplinary team behind Network Canvas looks forward to the science that will result from diverse applications of the tool within social networks research.

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