Maps

Maps are informational representations of a landscape. They are not models, or attempts to miniaturise a landscape; nor are they photographs. Maps contain more information than both of these other representations. A map, as noted on the benefits page, is drawn to highlight specific things that are pertinent to a learning process. It can serve as a record of change. It summarises what is known about a landscape, and can thus serve as a navigational tool even if one has not been to a place before, but can also suggest new routes of exploration through places that might be quite familiar.

Sociogram

This sociogram shows the ‘betweenness’ of the social network that linked together staff members at one of our case studies. Larger nodes represent staff members who linked together different clusters of individuals (brokers, in other words).

Our project used mapping in two main ways. First, we asked participants, at both the start and end of their work with us, to draw maps of their various working relationships. We amalgamated these maps into sociograms, a mapping technique designed to depict information about the social networks that connect people in a workplace (in this case).  Though we cannot show the individual maps on this site for reasons of anonymity, the map on the left is one from one of our case studies. The larger nodes represent people that occupy the position of brokers in the network.

organizational-chart-example-school-districtThis is a quite different view of an organisation from that which is depicted on the hierarchical organisation chart — a typical example of which is shown on the right. Conceptually, this is a map in the same way as a map of a landscape; it uses visual and relational conventions to put across a particular perspective on the organisation. We are so familiar with the convention that north should be at the top of landscape maps that when it is not, we are often confused, despite the fact that the orientation is basically arbitrary. The same is true of maps like this, which invariably depict the CEO or other senior figures at the top. And the relationships depicted here may seem somehow ‘natural’, but in fact this, and any map like it, is based on a very particular view of an organisation, one that sees it as composed of discrete units, related to each other by chains of command and control. A sociogram drawn of the same organisation would be a quite different map: same place, but different information.

Thus, the method by which one draws the map is just as fundamental to the final result as what is being mapped.

PhD timeline

A ‘timeline’ doodle pictured on a colleague’s desk — he used this during his PhD to clarify his thoughts. A very personal map, possibly useless to others, but nevertheless both a record of change, and a learning tool.

Techniques for making maps of mental or informational landscapes have a long history. The Ketso tool is an example of a concept or mind map, and is depicted below (see the IHMC site for more on concept mapping). More informal techniques still have plenty of value, like the timeline doodle pictured on the left.

A map of tweets

A map of tweets gathered from one city (in this case London) on one day — from http://www.brendandawes.com

The map shown on the right is a map of an information landscape in a very specialised sense. This map, created by Brendan Dawes, is a way of representing the subject matter of many thousands of Twitter posts (tweets) posted from one city over a single day. Key trends and subjects can be tracked, and the map compared with other cities on the same day, to see if inhabitants were talking about different things.

Our project used Ketso to create concept maps of workplace information landscapes. Ketso, pictured below, was created by Joanne Tippett at the University of Manchester. Different coloured leaves represent tasks that are being worked on (brown); information needs (yellow); information sources (green); blockages and actions (grey). Oval leaves are topics around which other leaves cluster, and small circular symbols represent priorities.

Ketso Session

Whole map from one of our Ketso sessions

Like other maps, these can serve as a record of change over time, showing, for instance, how the setting of priorities impacts upon change (sometimes it does, but in other contexts situations stagnate even if people define them as priorities), or that while information needs may change, sources stay stable (thus, a community of practice may benefit from a mapping process like this to help it review and maybe change the places it looks to for information).

For example, the two maps below show an area of one map at two consecutive sessions, seven weeks apart. At the first session, on the left, this topic (‘Teaching’) has many tasks assigned to it with associated information needs. A couple of actions (grey leaves) have also been defined. However, by the second session, pictured right, many of these tasks have been completed and removed from the map. Note, though, that despite an action being specified on the left, these leaves have stayed in place, showing the action is still ongoing and, possibly, that a blockage in the way of completion exists that must be attended to.

Teaching, beforeTeaching, after