Concept Mapping Where should we place the emphasis in our by brucewayneishere


									                              Concept Mapping
Where should we place the emphasis in our foster care program? What kind of
training should we have for social work staff? How should we evaluate foster
parents’ performance? What are the performance objectives for our Case
Information System? What is the conceptual framework for our Post-Adoption
Services Program? Questions such as these typically elicit many different answers
that can be organized and prioritized in many different ways and lead to many
different action plans.

In the field of evaluation, one method that has emerged for organizing the ideas
that result from such questions is “concept mapping.” Concept mapping is a
systematic means for organizing the processes of conceptualization and planning. It
can be used throughout an agency, whenever projects or initiatives are being
conceptualized, planned, monitored, or evaluated. Examples of endeavors where
concept mapping has been applied include strategic planning, program planning,
community needs assessment, the identification of program goals and objectives,
monitoring project progress, assessing fidelity with a program model, evaluation
planning, and instrument design. Although using concept mapping in these sorts of
activities may not appear to be a traditional role for research, this technique
originated within the field of program evaluation as a result of the growing
recognition that sound evaluation begins with sound program conceptualization and

What does concept mapping entail? How does it differ from other approaches to
organizing concepts and ideas? There are a number of approaches to structured
conceptualization. Concept mapping, as presented here, was developed by William
Trochim of Cornell University. It involves several steps: 1) Preparation; 2)
Generating statements; 3) Structuring statements; 4) Mapping statements; 5)
Interpreting the maps; and 6) Using the results.

The first stage of concept mapping requires the collaboration of the concept
mapping facilitator and project leaders in outlining the plans for the mapping
procedure. Because concept mapping is a group process, this involves determining
who will participate in the group, how and when the group will be assembled, and
what the calendar for the entire concept mapping procedure will be. Most
importantly, this is when the focus question or statement is developed. The focus
statement is what elicits information from the participants.

Once the focus statement is defined, the generation of ideas can begin. Typically
this is done with one or more brainstorming sessions, using the focus statement as
the prompt for the brainstorming. Ground rules are established so that participants
can feel free to respond with what they truly think. Responses are recorded, and
with group collaboration, edited so that they are clear to all.
Organizing these responses is the third step in concept mapping. Some of the
responses that were generated in the brainstorming session may be quite similar to
each other; others may be quite distinct. In order to portray the relationship of the
responses to each other, a card sort is conducted. In this procedure, each response
is written on a card and each member of the group sorts the cards into piles that
make sense to them. A second component of this structuring phase of concept
mapping is the rating of the responses along some dimension.               Typically,
statements are rated in terms of their importance, priority, feasibility, effort
required, or expected outcome.

In the mapping stage, statistical analyses (multidimensional scaling and cluster
analysis) are employed to combine the many different sorts obtained, produce
maps of the results, and aggregate the ratings made by the group.

Several types of maps result from these analyses. From them, it is possible to see
how the ideas generated in the brainstorming session are related to each other, the
dimensions along which the project or initiative is envisioned by the group, how the
individual ideas are related to more global dimensions, and how both the individual
ideas and broader dimensions are prioritized by the group. The interpretation of the
maps, however, is a group process. Through group discussion, the analytic results
are refined, the clusters of ideas are named, and the overall conceptualization of
the issue is identified and refined.

A sample of one of the maps that can be produced is presented below. It shows the
responses to a focal statement that asked about the issues that arose with the
implementation of a new computer technology in an agency. It can be seen that

                                     Sample Concept Map

                                                   Methodology           Graphical User


                                                                 Client Issues

                                                                          Team Issues

               Layer   Low    High
               1       2.70   2.98
               2       2.98   3.26
               3       3.26   3.54
               4       3.54   3.82               Personal Awareness
               5       3.82   4.10
                                                       & Skill
nine types of issues were identified.
Source: Concept Systems, Inc.

Although not shown on this map, the particular responses that are grouped in each
cluster can be identified, so as to help with the understanding and interpretation of
the clusters. This map also visually portrays the importance that the group ascribed
to each dimension. Dimensions rated as more important are shown with more
layers. Thus, client issues, the graphical user interface, and team issues were rated
as most important and documentation and methodology as least important.

Additional maps can be constructed to help portray the group’s conceptualization.
One that can be particularly useful compares the responses of different subgroups
of participants. For example, if staff was asked about their training needs, the
responses of more experienced staff could be compared with less experienced
workers, or staff perceptions could be compared with management views.

Following the discussion of the maps and their meaning comes the most important
phase of concept mapping – the use of the maps. The group may decide to use the
maps to structure a planning effort, to assign priorities or workload for tasks to be
accomplished, to outline a project, or in many other creative ways.

Although it may appear that concept mapping can be used primarily in the planning
phase of a project, in fact, it can be used throughout the life cycle of any initiative.
As a project is implemented, its development and progress can be tracked through
use of concept mapping. The group’s assessment of the achievements of any
project can also be obtained through this process.

A clear strength of this approach is its efficient and effective use of the group
process. The concept mapping process facilitates group planning, while at the same
time retaining the individuality of each participant’s responses. Because of the
structure of the process, what could be very complex also becomes very
manageable. Further, the use of statistical analyses helps lend both rigor and
objectivity to the work of the group. What results is a shared vision that has been
achieved in a neutral and organized fashion.

Another set of benefits to concept mapping concerns the way in which the maps
facilitate understanding. Concept mapping is a method that has many and varied
uses in any agency or organization, from planning to evaluation, and can yield
substantial benefits to many types of projects.

Trochim, W. M. K. (1989). An introduction to concept mapping for planning and
Evaluation and Program Planning, 12, 1-16. Retrieved July 8, 2002, from

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