Concept mapping

Conceptual mapping is a process of visually representing and organising ideas and relationships between them, creating a concept map. A concept map typically represents ideas as keywords or pictures (often, enclosed in boxes, circles or triangles) and relationships between them as arrows (often, labelled as "causes", "contributes to", "requires", etc.). Concept maps typically have a hierarchical structure, which ideas organised around overarching concepts. Conceptual mapping can be used by individuals and groups. When used by groups, aids to visually represent problems and by reorganising the keywords, pictures and arrows, search for solutions to these problems.

Basic Information on the Method
Mode of communication
Face-to-face, Online, Both
Group size
1-5, 6-30
Geographical scale
Public space, Neighbourhood, City, Region
Skills required
Average, Advanced
Resources needed
Low, Medium
Level of Involvement
Level of involvement
Involve, Collaborate
Type of knowledge enabled
Convergence - Small groups
Additional Criteria
Planning phase
Initiatiion, Planning & Design
Methodological approach
Expressive, Organisational

How to use the method

  1. Decide on the format of concept mapping. Concept mapping can be done online, e.g. using Miro, or face-to-face, e.g. using coloured pieces of paper or pre-designed toolkits, such as Tactile ToolsTM and Concept Systems™.
  2. Decide, which problem do you want to solve and with whom. Contact and invite participants to join you either in the online or face-to-face session. If conducting a face-to-face session secure a place for team work with large tables or wall spaces to attach notes. Concept mapping teams usually consist of 4-5 participants. If you have more participants, consider several parallel teams.
  3. If conducting face-to-face session, secure materials, such as paper, coloured pens, sticky notes, pins, threads.
  4. Concept mapping consists of five stages
  5. Brainstorming stage: List the key concepts/terms related to the topic
    • Organising stage: Spread the key concepts/terms on the table, arrange them into groups and sub-groups, identify higher order categories, add / remove items if necessary
    • Layout stage: Arrange items on the table aiming to represent your understanding of the interrelationships and connections, use the hierarchy, placing higher order categories in the centre or on top
    • Linking stage: use coloured threads with pins or lines with arrows to connect and show the relationships between the items, annotate arrows with words specifying the nature of the relationship
    • Revise and finalise the map
  6. 5. Discuss the map with your team members and with other teams.

What are the outcomes

Concept map of the topic / problem in focus.

Skills required

Skills required from participants - Average, Advanced

  • Requires some knowledge on the subject, critical thinking and team work skills
  • The more competent are participants, the better outcomes the concept map may produce

Resources needed

Resources - Low, Medium

  • Depending on the format, either licence for the digital tools (Miro, Concept Systems™) or materials for concept mapping (paper, pens, sticky notes, threads, pins)
  • Advances pre-designed toolboxes, such as Tactile ToolsTM, as well as trained facilitators may be employed (optional)
  • Time to organise and conduct the workshop
  • Costs of premises and refreshments

Strengths and weaknesses

  • An efficient tool to focus and structure discussion
  • Enables collective problem solving
  • Allows to work efficiently as a group without loosing the individuality
  • Produces visually comprehensive outcomes
  • Encourages every group member to contribute
  • Face-to-face mapping exercises depend on the group dynamics, in other words, may be dominated by the vociferous individuals
  • The map is meaningful for those, who created it, but may be incomprehensive for the outsiders, e.g. other teams
  • Rather expensive if pre-designed toolboxes and trained facilitators are employed

Use cases

Urban agriculture action plan, City of Saskatoon, Canada, ca. 2016-2018

Using a combination of computer-aided concept mapping (Concept Systems™) and group discussions, 66 participants contributed to developing a plan to advance urban agriculture. The action plan is structured around six concepts: public education, public spaces, community development, schools, regylations/bylaws and proximity to home. Growing more food within public spaces in order to make urban agriculture more visible and improving education strategies are two areas that participants ranked both important and feasible. Participants relayed that increased visibility could create a cultural shift to strengthen the local food knowledge (Martin & Wagner, 2018).

Try one of these tools & resources

  1. Creately (2021) The Ultimate Guide to Concept Maps: From Its Origin to Concept Map Best Practices. Available at:
  2. Felx A., Kane M., Corbière M. & Lesage A. (2020) Using Group Concept Mapping to Develop a Conceptual Model of Housing and Community-Based Residential Settings for Adults With Severe Mental Illness. Frontiers in Psychiatry ,11, article Nr. 430.
  3. Kane M. & Trochim W.M. (2007) Concept mapping for Planning and Evaluation. SAGE.
  4. Martin W. & Wagner L. (2018) How to grow a city: cultivating an urban agriculture action plan through concept mapping. Agriculture & Food Security, 7, article Nr. 33.