Collaborative Mapping: A Participatory Technique for Understanding the Program by Steve Wallis and Bernadette Wright

Hello, we’re Steve Wallis of Project FAST and Bernadette Wright of Meaningful Evidence. When you’re evaluating a program, understanding it from stakeholder’s perspectives is critical for ensuring that your evaluation is relevant. Incorporating stakeholder perspectives also builds relationships and trust. It also helps ensure that your evaluation is done with cultural competence, integrity, and respect for people.

Evaluators use a variety of techniques to help stakeholders share their understandings such as graphic recording and concept mapping. While these approaches can be useful, collaborative mapping adds some important features to make the process more effective.

Make your map collaborative

Start by gathering a diverse group of stakeholders. Taking turns, people write concepts on cards and place them on the mapping table. A concept is anything that’s important to understanding the situation, such as “new volunteers,” or “access to health care.” Often, these are thought of as resources, activities, goals, and outside conditions.

Make your concepts measurable

For each concept, the person also writes how that concept could be measured. You might think of a measure as, “how will you know whether this has happened?” For example, if a person places a card on the mapping table that says “new volunteers,” the measure might be “number of people who volunteered this month.”

Making concepts measurable helps to clarify what each concepts “means.” Later, when the map is put into action, you can use those measures to track progress and evaluate results.  

Make your arrows causal

When two or more concepts are on the mapping table, participants may place an arrow on their turn (instead of a concept) by drawing an arrow on a card and placing it between two concepts. It is very important that arrows show causal relationships, such as “grant funding”à”expanding the program” (“read” that as “more grant funding causes more program expansion”). Participants indicate whether their arrows mean “causes more” or “causes less” by writing a “+” or “-” near the head of the arrow.

Building a collaborative map with more measurable concepts and more causal connections provides greater understanding—and hence greater likelihood of success in practical application.

Hot Tips:

  • For working with remote teams, consider using an online mapping platform, such as Kumu or Plectica. As participants mention concepts and arrows that they think are important, you as the facilitator can add them to the map.
  • Conversation is encouraged for clarification; just remember to keep the process moving. If an argument persists for more than two minutes, put that concept or arrow aside for later.

Rad Resources:

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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