Episode 19:

The Influence Map

Published: January 2012: Updated: April 2013, August 2017

Here we present a concept and approach we don’t think you’d have considered before. Inclusion can depend on how effective partnerships are. The Influence Map is an approach and tool you can use to plot your circles of influence. In particular, it helps you identify your ‘consequential strangers’–those people that you may not be so aware of but may have a critical influence on the outcome you are trying to achieve.

This week’s episode is a little different. At the end of it you’ll be able to take away a useful tool–one that is practical and, hopefully, you’ll be able to use to create new opportunities in sport and physical activity for people with disability.

But it needs little explanation first.

If you have read or watched Where Opportunity Knocks (which I am sure you would have!) you will remember that one of the characteristics of people that contribute to the creation of inclusive environments, is that they are CONNECTORS.

These are the people that bring communities together. They are the glue that bind previously disconnected people. These Connectors are essential in the creation of social epidemics. Little epidemics around inclusion in our case.


“The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.”

Malcolm Gladwell

Now, in Where Opportunity Knocks we noted that we all have strong and weak ties to people. Our strong ties are typically our family and close friends. People we confide in and trust with more intimate details of our lives. Our weak ties tend to be people on the periphery of our lives–perhaps work colleagues or circles of friends that we meet occasionally.

Connectors have an extraordinary knack of retaining their weak ties. They stay in contact, they network, they meet, they telephone, they email, text, Facebook and Twitter large numbers of people. That’s what makes them Connectors. Connectors in the niche of sport and disability are extremely valuable and often responsible for making things happen.

The principle of the ‘strength of weak ties’ was first coined by sociologist Mark Granovetter more than 30 years ago. Granovetter asked workers who had recently changed jobs if they had found their new jobs through a friend. There was a pattern to the responses he received.

“One after another corrected me.” They kept saying, “No, he was only an acquaintance.”

These responses were consistent with other studies at that time, that led Granovetter to examine more closely the strength of weak ties and their influence on people. He found that there was a clear pattern and that consequential strangers often play an important and influential role in our lives, sometimes absolutely critical in determining the directions we take.

I can attest to this from my chance encounter with a young man called Tim around 25 years ago–an encounter that led me to where I am today.

The Helicopter View and Your Social Convoy

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Can you do this exercise for me? Hopefully you’ll see the point!

Mentally position yourself above your road in life. Your helicopter view of your life right now. You are cruising along that highway of life of yours.

Along your road too are your convoy of friends and acquaintances. Your close convoys are your family and close friends that you have known for a long time. Your inner convoy. They have been along a large part of that journey with you.

Then there are convoys of peripheral people. People that come in and out of your life and stay for short periods. They could be a particular group of people you holiday with once per year. They could be distant relatives you see at the odd Christmas function or at funerals! Typically they serve specific needs depending on where you are at in your life.

These people are your convoy of consequential strangers. They may come in and out of your life and some can play a significant part in it for a short period, then disappear again!

Looking at life from this helicopter position helps us understand the situations we find ourselves in. It helps us address problems that we have. Such as, how do I include this person in my sporting activity?

How does it help exactly?

Well, imagine if we could design a map of our convoys, including our consequential strangers, to help us solve a particular problem we have.

With any problem, it’s people that will help us most in trying to solve it. We need to understand who are the influencers in any given situation. The interesting part is that we often do not know who these key influencers are to solve the problem. They are not necessarily our strong ties. Weak ties can be highly influential too – our consequential strangers.

Also, remember, it’s not only about your own convoys of people that will help you solve a problem. We are all in other peoples convoys too.

“Life is as much a function of whom you associate with as who you are, and the ability to bring people into your convoy when you need them is a key coping mechanism in a complex world.”

Melinda Blau and Karen L. Fingeman

The 3-Step process to finding your consequential strangers—Johnny’s Football Club

So let’s run through an example to illustrate why this is important.

Let’s say you have Johnny—a young man who wants to join in a regular football program. Johnny has cerebral palsy, is ambulant, but has poor balance. Johnny plays in a team that is only for people with disability but now he wants to play in a another team, where he would be the only person with a disability.

Johnny and his family are keen to make this happen.

So, the task is:

To get Johnny a place in the local football club?

Who are the influential people to make this happen?

First, let’s consider Johnny’s connections—his strong and weak ties that are relevant to this task.

In the diagram below Johnny’s task is in the centre of the red circle. This is his circle of influence for this particular task. The other figures here are his convoys of people in this life. But only a specific group of people will have an influence on this task—it doesn’t involve his uncle Dave who he sees once per year and who doesn’t like football anyway!

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So, we are only concerned with the people in the inner circle of influencers. It is these people that are going to be instrumental if we are to achieve our goal of getting Johnny into his local football club.

But, we must determine what level of influence this inner circle has. In particular, we need to know who are the consequential strangers? This is the most difficult part of this.

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If we take this step by step it might help.

STEP 1: Determine all your possible connections—absolutely everybody that has a part to play in getting Johnny into the football club. Simply write them down in no particular order at this stage.

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Now we have a simple collection of people that are potential influencers on getting Johnny into the local football club.

STEP 2: Determine your consequential influencers—this is a way to help you determine who in this group are your strong and weak ties.

Some of these ties may be non-existent when you first do this exercise. But that does not mean they are not a valid connection and have a level of influence. Before we consider individual levels of influence though, we need to establish where the connections are, and if they are strong or weak.

In the diagram below the strong ties are those that are closest to the centre—the inner red ring. Let’s call the inner red circle—Level 1 Connection.

In the next level—Level 2 Connection—you have the coach. The coach already knows Johnny well.

Then, at Level 3 you have Johnny’s brother Phil, his friend Tom and future team mates—some of which Johnny knows quite well.

Finally, the least strong connection is at Level 4—these are the football committee members who do not know Johnny at all.

But, this is where it gets interesting, the level of connection does not always correlate with the level of influence. For example, you may find that there are members of the football committee—people that have never met Johnny—that are opposed to having someone with cerebral palsy playing in their teams because of perceived safety reasons.

These are your consequential strangers—the people that are weak ties but who are very important in the whole process of getting Johnny playing at the club. They can make or break getting Johnny playing at the club.

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STEP 3: Determine who are your key influencers—these are the people that are important in reaching your aim of getting Johnny playing at the football club.

Let’s say in this example that those people at levels 1, 2 and 3 are all supportive of Johnny and will do anything necessary to help him achieve his goal of playing at the club. They are important influencers.

But, it is the people that Johnny has least connections to that end up being the most influential. These people are the least connected but the most influential—the consequential strangers.

“This is why drawing an influence map together works so well, expecially for consequential strangers who are stuck with each other and a task.”

Eva Schiffer in Consequential Strangers

Below, you can download the Influence Map tool to help you go through this exercise. It’s in a Microsoft Word format so is easy to use. At the time of writing I had tested this tool with two groups—about 60 people from sport and community groups.

They found this simple exercise, and the idea of ‘mapping’ your connections and influencers in this way, very useful in helping solve some of the challenges of inclusion. At least, it should help you get to know who you need to talk to, to create more opportunities in sport and physical activity programs. It’s not always who you think!

Give it a shot!

The Inclusion Club—Episode19 Influence Map Tool DownloadDownload Influence Map Tool

PS: If you are interested in getting yourself a copy of Consequential Strangers by Melinda Blau and Karen Fingerman (we highly recommend it!) then click on the link below. A really good read…


Mark Granovetter, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” American Journal of Sociology 78, 1973

Melinda Blau and Karen L. Fingerman, “Consequential Strangers—Turning Everyday Encounters into Life Changing Moments”

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About the author: Peter Downs

About the author: Peter Downs

Founding Director - The Inclusion Club

Peter is Founding Director of The Inclusion Club and Manager of Play by the Rules – a national initiative to promote safe, fair and inclusive sport. Peter has worked for over 25 years in the field of inclusive sport, disability sport and physical activity including 17 years managing the Australian Sports Commission’s Disability Sport Unit.  In 2013 Peter was fortunate enough to receive a Churchill Fellowship to study models of best practice in inclusive sport and physical activity.