Beyond answers: Dimensions of the advice network

Rob Cross, Stephen P. Borgatti, Andrew Parker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

255 Scopus citations


In this paper, we report the result of a research project investigating social aspects of knowledge sharing and development. Prior research in a consulting firm revealed that respondents recognized five kinds of informational benefits when consulting others: solutions, meta-knowledge, problem reformulation, validation and legitimation. We employed these dimensions in a systematic network analysis of a different sample of people (human resource managers in a large conglomerate), using each of the five benefits as kinds of social relations. Two general research questions guided the analysis. First, how are these relations related to each other (multiplexity)? Do individuals obtain all of the benefits from the same individuals, or do they create balanced portfolios of complementary contacts that provide different benefits? Second, what properties and shapes do the networks induced by these relations form (structure)? What is the basis for who is tied to whom on each relation? The fundamental result emerging from both research questions is that the five relations seem to form a unidimensional scale such that a contact who provides any given benefit is also very likely to provide all the benefits that are lower on the scale. Position on this scale seems to index underlying dimensions of social solidarity rather than individual attributes such as status. Consequently, relations at the end of the scale (e.g. legitimation) were more homophilous and proved to be strongly diagnostic of subgroup boundaries, a fact which could be quite useful in consulting or other applied contexts. This research contributes to the literature on knowledge management by revealing diverse ways that consulting others facilitates knowledge creation and utilization. The research also contributes to social network analysis by examining meanings and relationships among social relations, an area that is understudied. We found that the five benefits, treated as social relations, formed an entailment structure consistent with a Guttman scale. We also found that relations lower in the scale flowed smoothly across historical organizational boundaries whereas relations higher in the scale did not.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-235
Number of pages21
JournalSocial Networks
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2001


  • Advice network
  • Guttman scale
  • Problem reformulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences
  • General Psychology


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