Why map information landscapes? What are the benefits?

Scandinavian geological map

A geological map. Quite different information is highlighted here from that which would appear on a political map of the same region. (Image credit: see bottom of page)

Mapping is a learning process. It summarises what is known about a landscape, but it also suggests new routes of exploration, including of places that may already feel well known. Maps are not models of a landscape, but informational representations of it: techniques are used that highlight certain features, depending on the audience for the map (maps aimed at hikers, for example, will emphasise features that differ from those highlighted on maps of the same area aimed at drivers, or geologists). The act of mapping, therefore, is one that involves making judgments about what is important, deciding upon the connections between things, and how best to represent all these so that the map is useful to others. All of these apply even when the landscape being mapped is one comprised of information, as shown by the examples on the sample maps page.

For organisations, communities of practice and individuals, mapping information landscapes can therefore bring benefits to workplace learning through enhancing:

  • information management. What resources are available to support activity? Are these being used as effectively as they could be? How do tasks map on to information needs and sources? What blockages in information flows exist and how can they be attended to? Mapping brings many eyes to the scrutiny of these questions, allowing for an inclusive approach that spreads the load of information management throughout the organisation.
  • change management. In the face of a significant project, restructuring or merger of some kind, mapping can help review progress, set actions and priorities, and integrate the necessary work with the ongoing tasks and activities of a team.

    Ketso mapping session

    Different professional groups come together around a Ketso map at Høgskolen i Bergen.

  • opportunities for sharing information and professional development. The map becomes the focus of a conversation aimed at determining what is significant in terms of resources and connections between them, unconstrained by a pre-existing agenda in the manner of the committee meeting. It then serves as a record of the conversation, one that can easily be returned to, reviewed and revised as the information landscape evolves.

Quotes from project participants:

“…it was good to talk together in an atmosphere of openness… I work at a separate location and don’t often get the chance to meet colleagues like this.”

“…it helped to think clearly, think about the steps of doing an activity and where to get the information we needed.”

“It made me aware that other departments may have problems or blockages that we don’t have to handle.”

“I got more out of it than the normal monitoring and meeting process [in which] the amount of information which usually comes up from below is less, particularly the perceptions of the staff…  There’s a team-building element to it.”

[Image credit: “Geo map Balt shield4 no” by Bjoertvedt – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons ]