Concept mapping is a general method that can be used to help any individual or group to describe their ideas about some topic in a pictorial form. There are several different types of methods that all currently go by names like "concept mapping", "mental mapping" or "concept webbing." All of them are similar in that they result in a picture of someone's ideas. But the kind of concept mapping I want to describe here is different in a number of important ways. First, it is primarily a group process and so it is especially well-suited for situations where teams or groups of stakeholders have to work together. The other methods work primarily with individuals. Second, it uses a very structured facilitated approach. There are specific steps that are followed by a trained facilitator in helping a group to articulate its ideas and understand them more clearly. Third, the core of concept mapping consists of several state-of-the-art multivariate statistical methods that analyze the input from all of the individuals and yields an aggregate group product. And fourth, the method requires the use of specialized computer programs that can handle the data from this type of process and accomplish the correct analysis and mapping procedures.
Although concept mapping is a general method, it is particularly useful for helping social researchers and research teams develop and detail ideas for research. And, it is especially valuable when researchers want to involve relevant stakeholder groups in the act of creating the research project. Although concept mapping is used for many purposes -- strategic planning, product development, market analysis, decision making, measurement development -- we concentrate here on its potential for helping researchers formulate their projects.
So what is concept mapping? Essentially, concept mapping is a structured process, focused on a topic or construct of interest, involving input from one or more participants, that produces an interpretable pictorial view (concept map) of their ideas and concepts and how these are interrelated. Concept mapping helps people to think more effectively as a group without losing their individuality. It helps groups to manage the complexity of their ideas without trivializing them or losing detail.