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Knowledge Mapping

Knowledge mapping offers a tremendous resource for deliberation about issues or problems. We can lay out what we collectively know, visually clarifying relationships among the relevant factors, actors, sectors, etc., involved with the problem being deliberated.

Knowledge mapping is a general term that covers…

  • mapping public issues ('social messes,' 'wicked problems')(e.g., Robert Horn [see 'Focus on Public Issue Mapping' below])
  • mind maps (e.g., Inspiration software)
  • pattern languages (e.g., Christopher Alexander)
  • Dialogue Mapping (e.g., CogNexus Institute)
  • Graphic Facilitation (e.g., David Sibbet)
  • geographical information mapping (GIS – Geographical Information Systems)

and may include more traditional visuals such as…

  • quantitative charts and graphs
  • process and procedure flow charts
  • timelines
  • and all other forms of visual presentation of information, especially of relationships (e.g., Edward Tufte)


This can be done before, during and/or after any particular deliberation, containing and delineating the complexity of the issue or situation in a confrontable, usable form, embracing the full spectrum of arguments and options. Different groups working on a particular problem can simultaneously or subsequently can add their insights to the maps. If a group is working on a problem similar to an earlier group's, the later one can use the other's maps as a template for launching their own. Websites and publications based on issue maps could inform the public in an unbiased way, and councils of citizens, stakeholders, legislators and/or administrators could be informed by and/or create such issue maps.

Robert Horn http://www.stanford.edu/~rhorn/ lists a number of different kinds of knowledge maps he is developing for policy and issue work (for an overview, see http://www.stanford.edu/~rhorn/a/recent/spchKnwldgPACKARD.pdf), including the following:

  • prototype issue maps
  • dilemmas and paradoxes maps
  • cross-boundary causality and dynamics maps
  • policy context maps
  • argumentation maps
  • strategy maps
  • options maps
  • scenario maps
  • Stakeholder goals, values and pressure maps
  • agreement templates
  • unknown territory maps
  • mythosphere, media and public rhetoric maps
  • Worldview influences maps

Knowledge mapping can be used to aid other visionary approaches seeking to summarize the full complexity of issues, such as:

  • Possibility Problem Focusers (Robert Theobald)
  • Dynamic Knowledge Repository (Doug Engelbart)
  • issue-based virtual intelligence websites (Robert Steele)

Although knowledge mapping has been so far used primarily to chart out the tangles of negative factors related to an issue, it could just as well be used to map positive aspects in the spirit of Appreciative Inquiry and Asset Based Community Development. Among the positive factors that could be mapped around an issue, organization or community are relevant:

  • resources
  • assets
  • creative options
  • innovations
  • networks
  • visions


This is all fabulous to find, AND I would add (or offer as a matrix for it) Ken Wilber's FourQuadrantModel (interior/exterior-individual/collective) and Clare Graves' SpiralDynamics. (Max Gail max@lap.org)

Wilber's and Graves' material seem more like philosophical systems with which to interpret information, rather than merely ways of presenting information. But it is a close call. Makes for provocative comparisons. Thanks, Max. — Tom Atlee

The common citizen becoming oriented, through graphically represented conceptual frameworks will be able to focus her own line of thinking and her own learning road. She will be able to communicate back and contribute her own inquires and ideas more effectively. The common citizen will have much more power to learn and participate.

What about maps of consciousness and individuality which prevent people from being willing to work toward a preferable future over the present one we are headed for? What allows people to change and why wouldn't they want to work for survival. Maps of psychology/the human mind representing the individual's part in change and how to achieve it. Otherwise, you end up having to force the issues of change which can result in repression, loss of individual power/democracy, and conflict. What are the ways society could develop greater commitment without becoming the change police. How do you facilitate change in the human heart and foster tolerance of diverse thinking versus ignoring those who don't agree with you. Knowledge is not enough. There is a whole psychology of consciousness and action that must be taken into consideration. Culture is a product of individual consciousness and history. There are psychological obstacles here that are first and formost. Those committed to social change understand the present maps b/c they are already committed. You speak to an audience of sympathizers. What about everyone else?

Created on the NCDD wiki by members of the dialogue & deliberation community.

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