Submitted by Rob Hatch
Early in my training as an Early Childhood Educator, we were taught to use a technique called webbing. The process was simple enough in that we would take a main topic or theme and web connections to each of the areas in our classroom. In this way, the theme could be represented and extended through a variety of activities for children. Each activity would be consistent with the overarching theme and more engaging and meaningful for each child.
15 years later as the Executive Director of a social service non-profit with eight different programs, I find myself using webs or mind maps in the management of my organization.
Note: I highly recommend using software for this process. There are a number of excellent Mind Mapping software programs out there. I personally use Inspiration. I think that there are probably some better programs out there, but Inspiration was the first I used and was the least expensive (I do manage a non-profit). I’â€™ll talk more about the software throughout, but here is how I use Mind Mapping on the ground in my shop.
Grounding – Building the Framework
I have found Mind Mapping to be a useful way of understanding the variety of components that comprise each of our programs. I begin by establishing a general framework which articulates these components. In this way, I become grounded in the composition and current realities of the program.
With eight key programs, each one has some basic elements which may include: staffing, funding, individual services, priorities, accountability, objectives, partnerships, training, data management, technology and others.
As each element is built in the mind map, I may or may not spend time drilling down through the subsets of each category. The beauty of Mind Mapping and in particular, the software, is that I can float from bubble to bubble effortlessly and jot down the next thing that comes to mind. It doesnÂ‚â€™t have to be a linear process. As I stumble upon a subset of another bubble, I type in my thoughts and naturally some brainstorming will occur as well.
Cartography – Broadening the Scope to Elements of Influence
Once the framework is established, I begin to construct elements of influence affecting each program. In my case it may involve, legislation, state and federal funding, competition, certification and licensing, among others. In constructing this part of the framework, the external realities that our organization must function in begin to unfold. I am now building the map of the world around me and thus routes for the success of the program begin to emerge.
Integration – Overlapping Components
Inevitably, each program has commonalities (i.e. Fund Development). Given that this is common among all programs, I choose to have an agency wide approach to fund development which remains flexible enough to each program.
So, with each new mind map for a particular program, I leave the Fund Development bubble alone and begin a new Mind Map specific to Fund Development. The beauty of using the software is that when I arrive at the bubble for Fund Development I can insert links to one Fund Development Mind Map. So no matter which program I am reviewing or mapping I have a quick link to this common map.
The brainstorming process seems to happen organically as much during the process as it does after the framework is built.
However, it really starts rolling after the framework is there. I find that structure of each program as well as the underlying structure of the software, affords me and my team the ability to riff and play around with ideas more easily.
Also, I am not a naturally linear thinker and I love the flexibility of having a thought, capturing it and placing it in the right place even though it is not on the particular bubble I am working on.
Pulling it all together
The real beauty of using software for me is the function that allows me to take this messy map and organize it in a presentable format either graphically or by converting it to an outline that my senior staff team or board can work with.
This is invaluable for presentations and as notes get added in meetings, you can go back, change your map and pull it together again in outline form.
The next step in our agency is to review the maps of each program and decide how we are going to maintain, grow, initiate, avoid, replicate or any number of actions required for the success of our program and mission. The beauty is that it is all mapped out.
I would recommend reviewing your map frequently as realities change. Start with monthly to be sure your not missing anything and once you begin thinking about and using maps regularly, charting new courses will come naturally and with greater confidence.
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