We are Mary Kane and Scott Rosas, Principal and Senior Consultants at Concept Systems, Inc. located in Ithaca, NY. Our total concept mapping years number almost 30, and our work often focuses on surfacing and incorporating the values and perspectives of diverse stakeholders in planning and evaluation.
Concept mapping engages people and their opinions and ideas to create a co-authored map of the issues and priorities on a particular issue. Its effective uses include community needs assessment, program priorities development, strategic planning and evaluation of programs and policies.
Lessons Learned: We would like to share three questions in planning and evaluation, and how concept mapping helped address participation challenges in ways that balance systematic inquiry with respecting—indeed, valuing—persons.
1. One challenge is an ontological question: whose reality should contribute to and shape the issue? Determining which stakeholder interests should have priority in planning and evaluation requires thoughtful consideration of power, position, and history relative to the issue at hand. We used concept mapping in 2003 within African American communities in Jackson, Mississippi that traditionally experienced greater health risks than other groups, to build a Health Disparities Elimination Roadmap. Concept mapping combined the community’s several voices with agencies and medical service providers to create policy, practice and community health changes. The resulting neighborhood models were integrative, creative and effective in changing the community’s health status.
2. The second is a methodological question: how might planners and evaluators intentionally and creatively tailor methods to match stakeholder capacities, backgrounds, and interests to maximize participation, understanding and acceptance of results? In communities where language and culture present real challenges to facilitating change, how do researchers value voices that are not easily captured? We successfully sequenced and integrated two participatory methods–photovoice and concept mapping–resulting in a conceptual framework of factors influencing immigrants’ health and well-being, supported by images with captions describing their experiences. This emergent stakeholder-produced model fostered new opportunities for immigrant residents from very diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds to convey a sophisticated and nuanced view of how their neighborhood influenced health and well-being.
3. A third question is about participation: how are the priorities of stakeholders, in this case program beneficiaries, sought, acknowledged, and considered in the context of determining program measurement and assessment requirements? We used concept mapping with early intervention program stakeholders, including beneficiary families, to develop an outcome framework from which measures to assess outcome could be designed and tested. Through purposeful and structured inclusion, the values and decisions of parents of children in the early intervention program were credited and combined with those of service providers, state and county EIP staff, and experts throughout the project.
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