This month SAGE MethodSpace will focus on evaluation and other types of applied research. Posts in the series and relevant posts from the archives will be found using this link.
Bernadette Wright and Steve Wallis, co-authors of the new book Practical Mapping for Applied Research and Program Evaluation. Mentors-in-residence for SAGE MentorSpace this month, they’ve agreed to answer some questions. This is the third of four Q & A posts.
In several chapters of your book you point to the value of collaborative mapping, including online mapping. How can instructors prepare students for these activities? How can research or evaluation teams use these approaches?
Collaborative mapping is a useful approach to gathering diverse perspectives. Teams of students or evaluators collaborate to create these kinds of map, by sharing their understandings of a topic or situation. The result is a practical map that the group agrees is ready to put into action to support decision making, conversations, research, and evaluations.
Over the years, we’ve studied (and used) a wide variety of mapping techniques including “mind mapping,” “concept mapping,” and others. We’ve found that “practical mapping,” with its measurable concepts and causal connecting arrows, provides a better representation of the real world. Also, studies show that this kind of mapping—mapping that focuses on causal connections–is more effective for understanding and solving the problems faced by our organizations.
Instructors and evaluators can use a few key techniques to help our students and clients to create good maps using collaborative mapping.
- Arrange a room and materials. Even before the mapping begins, you should be sure to arrange a comfortable location with plenty of materials. We recommend to have about 20 3×5 cards for each person, along with markers for writing concepts and arrows on the cards. It’s nice to have refreshments as well!
- Prepare a topic. You should also prepare your topic in advance. For the classroom, student teams can use the topic of the course or choose a relevant sub-topic. For an evaluation, the topic will likely be decided by the client and/or be the subject of the research (such as, “homelessness in our community”).
- Invite diverse groups. Always remember that diversity is desired. When bringing people together to create a map, you want to bring in as many different groups representing different interests as possible. For the classroom, you can have students brainstorm a list of stakeholders who could be included in the collaborative mapping process for their topic. For evaluations, you can invite people from different parts of the community (such as managers, front line case workers, community members, and people from other organizations).
- Explain the process. At the start, the facilitator should carefully explained the mapping process to participant with clear examples. After this explanation, we like to facilitate participants through a “practice round” using a simple situation such as a birthday party. Participants identify resources, activities, and outcomes for their topic and the causal connections between them while we create the map – posting large cards on the wall. As we do that, we remind participants of the importance of using measurable concepts and causal connections.
- Begin mapping. Because collaboration requires participation, it is important that each person gets time to put their concepts on the map. In short, it is best that people take turns. We want participants to end the day thinking, “this is our map.”
- Support the process. Finally, facilitating the mapping process is best done with close support for the participants. To start, it is good for the facilitator to observe one group or table of participants to be sure they are following the correct procedure.
For students, the mapping process supports collaborative learning. For teachers, you can use “gap analysis” (page 162 of our book – link below) to identify blank spots on the maps where there may be gaps in student knowledge. Researcher and evaluators can use the map to support conversations and decision making—and to identify opportunities for additional research. Organizations, with support from an evaluator, can use their map to track their progress toward their goals, and revisit the map and update it as they gain more information.
For more suggestions, check out the free online book handouts “Tips for Facilitating Groups” and “Participant’s Guide to Knowledge Mapping,” found at: https://practicalmapping.com/
See Practical Mapping for Applied Research and Program Evaluation. Use the code SAGE2019 for a discount.