Concept mapping


A concept map shows how different ideas relate to each other - sometimes this is called a mind map or a cluster map.

This method can be used for the task of negotiating values and standards, and is useful for framing the evaluation. Concept Mapping can be used before, during or after implementation of a project/program/policy. It is necessarily done in a group and it requires sufficient time (the group needs to provide input individually and then meet) and specialist software.

There are various forms of concept mapping but the one referred to here is that designed by William Trochim of Cornell University. It is a group process assisted by a computer programme that identifies and maps out clusters of ideas based on input from a participating group. Ultimately it provides a statistical analysis of what is really valued by a group and how strongly one idea relates to another. However, the sense-making of the patterns that emerge require a skilled facilitator to work with the group for the best advantage.

To quote its designer, William M K Trochim (1989),  "Concept mapping is a type of structured conceptualization which can be used by groups to develop a conceptual framework which can guide evaluation or planning."

In the typical case, six steps are involved: 

  1. Preparation  - participants are identified and engaged and the focus of the concept map is agreed - for example aspects of a successful intervention
  2. Statements are generated about the focus of the concept map - for example, people might be asked individually or in a group to generate statements about different aspects of a successful intervention
  3. Grouping and rating statements - participants work individually to rate the importance of each statement and to group the statements into cluster that make sense to them,
  4. Drawing a concept map, using proprietary software (Concept Map) that combines cluster analysis and multidimensional scaling. It is also possible to draw separate maps for different groups of people - for example, comparing how staff and clients group and rate items differently
  5. Interpretation - in a group, label the clusters and decide how to intepret the results
  6. Use of the results - they can be used to identify the values for an evaluation, the elements in a logic model

In evaluation, it is particularly useful in making explicit the different values people have about a particular topic or project/programme. If used a few times in the life of a project, programme or strategy it would identify the overall changing values stakeholders have as peoples’ knowledge and understanding of an intervention changes.


This example of a Concept Map is taken from Trochim (1989) Cluster rating map for the York County Elderly project. An Introduction to Concept Mapping for Planning and Evaluation. p14


example concept mapping


Advice for choosing this method

Concept Mapping is good when you need to answer questions such as:

  1. We are dealing with a fuzzy concept. How can we determine what the indicators might be?
  2. What are the different things that a group of stakeholders really interested in?
  3. How can evolving stakeholder values be monitored?

The benefits in choosing this option are:

  • It provides a picture (map) of peoples’ collective ideas and the relative importance of each
  • A major strength is that input is required by everyone in the room and therefore the dominant voices are easier to manage.
  • It is an engaging process if well facilitated
  • Some people argue that the same result might be achieved without the use of software but the software provide a dynamism that means considerable ground can be covered in one day. It makes the most of peoples’ time.

Alternatives to this option that can be used to identify possible outcomes are DelphiInterviews, Policy Statements. Or to develop a group response about the priorities you can use DelphiInterviewsQuestionnaires.

Advice for using this method

Concept mapping can be used:

  1. to help to identify and negotiate the values for an evaluation
  2. to help identify the elements of a logic model
  3. to track how people's thinking about an issue changes over time

Before you decide to use this option you must take into account: 

  • The costs of the software and the training
  • That the maps require skilled sense-making, otherwise an incorrect conclusion can be reached


Trochim, W. M. (1989). An introduction to Concept Mapping for Planning and Evaluation..Evaluation and Program Planning, 12, 1-16. Retrieved from

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