Interactive Mind Mapping

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                Interactive Mind Mapping

Most people know something about brainstorming but they don't always
appreciate how it can fit systematically into an larger picture of
'communicating in groups'. This page contains four short articles which map
out the bigger picture and give some hints for trainers on how to best
organise and facilitate the process.

Helping people to better understand what they already know
Any individual Care Worker in Highland Region might know one or two good playcare
activities but different individuals will know of different activities.

   If a list was made of all these activities it would help everybody to put more tools in
    their toolbox

   If the activities were sorted into categories then individuals might realise that they
    had been missing out on a whole area of activities and/or they might be stimulated to
    think up some new types of activities for particular categories.

   If linkages were made between the categories (ie those best suited for younger
    children and those for older ones etc) then the Care Worker would be better able to
    choose particular activities to match the needs of particular children.

Helping people to better understand what they already know is the mental equivalent of
tidying up a playroom after a gang of kids has been in. There should be a place for
everything and everything should be in its place. The process of designing the storage
system for the playroom is the equivalent of what is called Interactive Mind Mapping.
The following table maps the concept of Interactive Mind Mapping.

                               Interactive Mind Mapping

       Brainstorming                  Categorising                     Linking

     Make a list of items          Group the items into           Describe how the
     surrounding a 'seed'         categories and give the       categories link to each
            word                     categories names                    other

The map, however, describes the process in much too tidy a way. In real life the stages
blend together (eg when a 'category' is brainstormed as an 'item') and there is much
moving backwards and forwards (a process called iteration) eg having invented a new
category you may be reminded of items that you did not think of earlier - no problem, add
them: when you begin to map linkages you may realise that a category is missing - no
problem, add it - and then maybe reshuffle the items and/or add new ones.

In the pure 'emergent' form of concept mapping a Trainer would act simply as a process
facilitator ie she would not be interested in the content and structure of the eventual
concept map. Her task would simply be to help organise the brainstorming, categorising
and linking processes.

Sometimes the intention of the Trainer will be to have the trainees understand the
structure of a pre-existing Concept Map eg Health and Safety regulations for Child Care
facilities. In this case the same technique can be used but the trainer would play a more
active role in ensuring that the categories and linkages which the class decides to use are
the 'correct' ones. This need not be seen as cheating so long as the trainer is honest about
what she is trying to do. Hopefully most regulations do in fact 'make sense' and it helps to
promote understanding and ownership of them to have the trainees actively 'guess' what
they are rather than being expected to passively absorb them.

In the second case the end product is known in advance and a hand-out can be prepared
before the activity begins. In the first case the end product will remain a mystery until
after the event and the task of preparing the handout can be delegated to one of the
The output from a brainstorm activity is a list of ideas related to a given seed word.

Results of a good brainstorm                   Results of a bad brainstorm

A long list of unusual, thought-provoking      A short list of the same old ideas from a
and exciting ideas which represent many        very narrow point of view.
different points of view

Bad brainstorms are those which are locked into limited points of view. This can happen
for various reasons:

Nature                       age, sex, IQ

                             social class, religion, language, rural/urban, level of
Nurture                      education, experience of life and work, hobbies and interests,

                             happy/sad, relaxed/harassed, outgoing/shy, friendly or bossy
Mood & Motivation
                             chairperson and/or participants

                             specialist group or mixed stakeholders;

There is no single correct composition for a brainstorm group as it could be called for
many different purposes. But the general principle would be to make it as mixed as
practicable so as to avoid getting trapped in a limited point of view.

There are many different ways to organise a brainstorm and the options are set out in the
following table:

                      By post or Email            activity or           At a workshop

Individual                     1                       2                        3

Sub groups                     4                       5                        6

Whole group                                                                     7
The most common way is Type 7 where the Trainer supplies the seed word, participants
shout out ideas and somebody writes them on a flip chart. This has its uses but the table
points to other ways of brainstorming and you are invited to think through what would be
involved in situations 1 to 6.

A useful variation is to have individuals make a personal list (eg a minimum of three
items) to share with a small group and then for the groups to report in plenary to generate
a master list. This system has the advantage of forcing everyone to make a contribution.

Given that Brainstorming often leads on to Categorising it is useful to have individual
ideas written on individual pieces of paper so that they can be sorted quite easily.
Everyone in the room should be able to read what is written on the sheets so think about
the size of the paper and the thickness of the felt pens that are to be used. Think also of
how the pieces of paper are to be attached and reattached - drawing pins, sellotape, blu-
tak, post-it sheets?

How to get plenty of good ideas

   Accept any idea that comes up without judging it in the initial stages - smile a lot!

   Encourage people to be different and exciting - make appreciative noises!

   Make it happen quickly so that people have gut reactions and thus liberate sub-
    conscious ideas

If none of that works try using prompts eg

                                             If you were blind or deaf how would it be
How did they do it in the old days?

How would old or young people see it?        If you were a fly on the wall what would you see?

How would a macho male react?                What if it was cats rather than people?

How is technology changing things?           What if you had to do it without speaking?

How is it different in Nigg?                 What if Jesus (or Santa) was the boss?
The output from a categorising session is a list of generally acceptable categories which
is shorter than the list of brainstorm items on which it is based.

Results of a good categorisation session         Results of a bad categorisation session

A short list of categories (less than 7*)       A long list of categories which participants
about which all participants agree and          have not really agreed to and which has
whose usefulness is apparent to all             not helped to clarify the issue for most of
                                                the participants

* Few people can hold more than seven ideas in mind at the same time
Ideally the items from the brainstorm will have
been written on separate sheets of paper. The task
now is to shift these around so as to group them             JARGON BUSTING
into categories and to give each category a name
or label - this can be written on a different sheet     If the mechanic says that your
of paper using a different colour.                         car has a problem with its
                                                       'electrical system' this will not
Categorising is best done as a sub group or whole       mean much to you unless you
group exercise because this will involve               can unpack his jargon phrase -
conversations about why items belong in
                                                               'electrical system'.
particular categories ie people will have to think
about the criteria (or characteristics) for putting
items here rather than there. These conversations         It is important for people to
can lead to some healthy changes of mind (eg           have participated in drawing up
when two categories are merged into one or one          the short list of categories and
is split into two etc).                                  labels because they will then
                                                           know the details which lie
If the trainer already knows what the 'correct'             behind the jargon which
system of categories is then she should intervene               eventually appears.
at this stage to make sure that the groups are
going in the 'correct' direction.
How to get a good set of categories

Some people and groups are better at seeing how items can be fitted into categories than
others. If the categorisation session is not going well the trainer can jog it with broad
categorisation prompts. These would obviously vary depending on the topic but the
following prompts are applicable to most topics:

          PROMPT                                     POSSIBILITIES

When does it happen?                 Past/present/future; day/night; summer/winter;

Where does it happen?                Indoor/outdoor; town/country; seaside/inland;

What resources are involved?         Buildings/equipment; budgeting/bookkeeping; staff

Whose point of view?                 Old/young; male/female; special needs;

What attitudes?                      Positive/negative; rational/emotional; old fashioned/
The output from a linking session is a concept map showing how all the individual items
and categories fit together to make up the 'big picture' ie everybody has a good grasp of
the overall situation such that there are no loose pieces in the jigsaw; ie everybody is
enlightened about the topic and will not thus be groping around in the dark.

    Results of a good linking session           Results of a bad linking session

    All participants feel that (a) they have   Participants are still confused about
    a good understanding of the various        the issue - possibly more confused
    parts of the issue/ topic/ system and of   than they were before. They still do
    how they fit together and interact and     not understand the issue/ topic/
    (b) can see possibilities for improving    system and cannot therefore see how
    the situation.                             it might be changed for the better.

So far we have items which have been grouped into categories. The task now is to draw a
picture or map of how these are interrelated or linked. This involves arranging the
categories in some kind of order and then drawing lines between them to show the

Given that you might be mapping issues, topics or systems which have physical,
biological, psychological, sociological, administrative, financial, legal or whatever
components, there is no single correct way of linking them but some common patterns
with examples are listed below:

         Principle                                   Example

   Input/ process/ output     Efficient & effective procedures? - Remember GIGO -
                              garbage in, garbage out. If it's not broken don't fix it.

   Before/ during/ after      PIME - Plan, Implement, Monitor & Evaluate.
                              Necessary sequences 'Can't do x till y is finished'. Who
                              does what by when? Who checks?

   Feedback loop - self       Heating turns itself off when it is hot enough. Work
   regulation procedure       well and get promoted. Be calm when others are
          Principle                                    Example

   Cause/ effect chain         Multi-cause to single effect; single cause to multi-effect
                               etc Beyond simple mindedness

   Critical path               Where is the weakest link in the chain? Rush hours -

   Catalytic input - small     Counselling, staff training, better filing system,
   input has large impact      technology

   Opportunity cost            If we didn't do x what else could we spend the money
                               on - value for money. A stitch in time saves nine. Deal
                               with acorns not oak trees.

   Boundaries &                How does this particular system fit into larger systems -
   autonomy                    what can it change without asking permission from

   Purpose & goal              The vision thing. The 'Why' question. What are the
   directedness                'intentions' of the various actors? How are these

When you move through brainstorming and categorising to linking you are going from
the parts towards the whole ie you are systematically figuring out how the details fit into
a bigger picture. Having eventually reached the big picture, however, you will find that
(a) it is part of an even bigger picture and (b) that some of the categories and items no
longer mean what they did before. This is not a problem - change them.

This going backwards and forwards between details and the big picture is the process
which earlier we called 'iteration', and it is essential if thinking and organisations are to
stay in touch with a changing world. It is never as clean cut as the models suggest but, in
essence, the process of understanding the world goes from parts to whole and then from
the whole back to the parts and so on - indefinitely. This is how life lives itself - this is

The good thing about being a human rather than a worm is that by taking thought you
      can direct evolution, you can dream the future and then make it happen.

                                     Go for it!

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