The River Chart

Developed by Geoff Parcell and Chris Collison in their book No More Consultants: We Know More Than We Think, “The River Diagram” is a useful tool designed for visualising the results of self-assessment and peer-learning data from multiple sources.

Specifically, it allows users to visually represent rubrics from multiple sources which each contain their own matrix of information – for example, multiple rubrics for individuals, villages, departments, etc - in one easy-to-read chart.

Consider an individual rubric which records ten key measures of performance on a 1 to 5 scale. This information is relatively easy to plot on a graph, by placing each measure on the x-axis and the level of performance, 1 to 5, on the y-axis. However, if you were to overlay multiple rubrics from a number of different sources (say, every department in an organisation, or self-assessment forms from every student in a class) onto the same chart, the data points would quickly become cluttered and difficult to interpret.

The River Diagram simply takes the maximum and minimum level for each measurement, and shows the range of scores across the whole group being considered. The area between maximum and minimum scores is then coloured blue, while the remainder of the chart is coloured green. The coloured chart then takes on the appearance of a blue river bordered by green banks; places where the river is at its widest (i.e. where the gap in best and worst performance between individual respondents is at its highest) suggest the greatest opportunities for lessons-learning and sharing.

For example, an international workshop hosted by the University of Namibia, the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and the Information Knowledge Management Emergent Research Programme (IKM Emergent) in 2009 looked at five levels of capability in knowledge management (KM) practice among a number of key African development organisations and institutions.

Here, a River Chart was used to visualise the full range of multiple self-assessment matrices completed by individual respondents. Five practices were assessed: KM strategy, leadership, networking, learning, and capturing. Each category was self-assessed on a five point scale, and all the individual self-assessments were overlayed onto a single graph.

Translating this data to a single River Chart by only representing the highest and lowest scores, in turn, produces this:  


Here, it is easy to tell at a glance that significant outliers exist between KM strategy and learning between individual respondents – high-scoring organisations therefore share what they know to aid lower-scoring organisations.

Source:“Knowledge for Developing in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities, 9-13 November, 2009, Windhoek, Namibia”, University of Namibia, CTA, IKM Emergent.




Parcell, G. and Collison , C. (2009) No More Consultants: We Know More Than We Think (London: John Wiley & Sons)

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