METHODS: Our mixed-method approach combined participatory social network mapping and semi-structured interviews. The process involves the creation of a hand-drawn map of the people and places involved in participants’ food shopping habit. Participants first wrote a list of the places where they get food and then provided details regarding each including: why they go, how they get there, who they go with, who they know, and their social and general experiences. Social network data were analyzed by calculating frequencies of people (alters) involved in participants’ food shopping habits, alter characteristics, and frequency of shopping at places. Two-mode social network analysis was used to visualize participants’ food shopping places and the nature of ties with alters at each place. Semi-structured interview data were analyzed employing inductive and deductive analyses. Deductive analysis focused on purely social interactions not related to food procurement, information exchange related to food procurement, and material exchange including benefits received through a relationship with staff. Inductive analysis focused on perceptions of social interactions at food procurement places.
RESULTS: Findings from 30 interviews offered guidance about 1) where social connections are high (i.e., food pantries and convenience stores) and may be more easily tapped into for dissemination of information and resources, 2) the value of having purely social exchange that may be more normative in food procurement spaces rather than focusing exclusively on healthy eating, and 3) the importance of actors perceived to be trustworthy and who might be an effective disseminator of information (i.e., food pantry staff, convenience store cashiers, farmers’ market vendors).
CONCLUSION: The results of our study were directly useful in the development of a peer-to-peer intervention called FreshLink Ambassadors a food access intervention that seeks to increase social connectedness at farmers’ markets fostering the exchange of information and material resources needed to promote a healthy diet among people receiving SNAP. These methods may also be adapted to conduct social network-based health interventions in new contexts and with new populations.