Using the think-aloud method to assess the feasibility and acceptability of network canvas among black men who have sex with men and transgender persons: Qualitative analysis

Natalie D. Crawford*, D. Josma, Kristin R.V. Harrington, Joseph Morris, Alvan Quamina, Michelle Birkett, Gregory Phillips Ii

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Characteristics of an individual's social network have been important factors in understanding infectious disease transmission patterns. Social network data collection is generally time and resource intensive, yet it is crucial to our understanding of the complex epidemiologic landscape of human behaviors among stigmatized social groups. Objective: We sought to evaluate the feasibility and acceptability of a self-administered social network data collection tool, Network Canvas, among Black men who have sex with men (BMSM) and transgender persons using the think-aloud method, which is a robust and flexible research technique used to perform usability testing. Methods: We piloted a self-administered network interview within the Network Canvas Software Suite. Participants aged 18 years and older were recruited through a community-based organization in Atlanta, GA, and were included based upon their willingness to share information on sexual behaviors and drug use for themselves and their social networks. A semistructured interview guide was used to document cognitive decision-making processes while using the tool. Recorded interviews were transcribed verbatim, and thematic analyses were performed. Results: Among 7 BMSM and transgender participants, three main themes were identified from cognitive processes: (1) the utility, (2) navigation, and (3) intuitive design of Network Canvas. Overall, Network Canvas was described as "easy to use," with suggestions mainly directed toward improving navigation tools and implementing an initial tutorial on the program prior to use. Participants were willing to use Network Canvas to document their social networks and characteristics. In general, observed verbal responses from participants matched their behavior, although there were some discrepancies between verbal affirmations of use and understanding versus external observation. Conclusions: We found Network Canvas to be a useful new tool to capture social network data. Self-administration allowed participants the opportunity to provide sensitive information about themselves and their social networks. Furthermore, automated name generation and visualization of an individuals' social network in the app has the potential to reduce cognitive burden during data collection. More efficient methods of social network data collection have the potential to provide epidemiologic information to guide prevention efforts for populations with stigmatized health conditions or behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere30237
JournalJMIR Formative Research
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Black msm
  • Egocentric networks
  • Infectious disease transmission
  • Msm
  • Network canvas
  • Social networks
  • Sociogram
  • Stigma
  • Think-aloud
  • Transgender

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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