Consensus Mapping

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The consensus mapping technique (Hart et al., 1985) helps a facilitator and group reach consensus about how best to arrange a network of up to maybe 20 – 30 activities that have to be sequenced over time into a useable plan of action (e.g. outlining a 10-year network of sequentially linked activities to deal with a complex environmental pollution issue). These will usually be activities that could be done in a range of orders – i.e. the order has to be approved – it is not given by the internal logic of the activities themselves.

The technique has parallels to many of the usual project planning methods (and could if necessary feed into them) but operates at a purely qualitative, outline, level.

It merges elements of standard clustering techniques such at KJ-method and Snowball Technique with elements of sequential mapping Causal Mapping incorporated into a wider consensus-seeking procedure that has associates with Eden;s SODA method. Here is the suggested procedure:

  1. Present the ideas: Devise a master list, via any suitable means, detailing all the ideas to be used in the single coherent action plan required, e.g. brainstorm the activities needed to implement some idea or project. Everyone copies the master list onto Post-its, or equivalent, one idea per slip.
  2. Form groups: The facilitator form 2 – 4 task groups, each of 5 – 9 individuals in each.
  3. Private clustering: Individuals in groups makes their own private attempt to group the ideas into related clusters or categories.
  4. Sharing in triads: Join together in pairs or triads within each task group to describe one another’s clusters.
  5. Group clustering: Individual task groups combine to try merging their private clustering into a shared clustering they can all accept.
  6. Group review: following group clustering, clarification of the original ideas, and re-evaluation of them takes place.
  7. Facilitators create and present a ‘Strawman’ integrated map: each task group delivers their group clusters to the facilitator they then take a break. During the break, staff members consolidate the group cluster maps into a single overall cluster map, containing all the ideas, categories, and relationships generated by the groups. This ‘Strawman map’ is presented to the group as a whole when they come back together.
  8. Map reconfiguration: The whole group splits itself again into the respective task groups, and each one uses the ‘Strawman Map’ for motivation and stimuli for developing its own map in which cluster of activities are linked sequentially. Links made of ribbon or yarns are better than pen lines at this stage, because they can be changed.
  9. Plenary presentation: Each task group exhibits its map of sequentially linked clusters to the others.
  10. Map consolidation: Representatives from each task group meet to construct a single final map that combines the features of all the maps.

The complete procedure works best with a trained group, but the mapping element could easily be adapted to informal solo use.