Mind maps: A brainstorm of success

The mind map is a useful tool to visually engage in meeting process.

The mind map is a useful tool to visually engage in meeting process. Photo credit: Creately.com
The mind map is a useful tool to visually engage in meeting process. Photo credit: Creately.com

The Facilitative Leadership Program from Michigan State University Extension teaches several divergent thinking, also known as brainstorming tools. Among those tools is a mind map. A mind map is a diagram used to visually organize information. Typically, they will be generated around a main topic area or theme with an image drawn in the center of a large whiteboard or scroll paper.

Associated representations of ideas such as images, words and parts of words are then added to create a “sunburst” effect. Major ideas are connected directly to the central concept, and other ideas branch out from those.

Mind maps can be drawn by hand, either as "rough notes" during a lecture, meeting or planning session, for example, or as higher quality pictures when more time is available.

In addition to hand-drawn maps, there now are computer generated mind mapping tools to brainstorm, make a plan, or turn ideas into the steps needed to make it real. These digital mind maps allow users to organize the maps easily, maneuver ideas during the session, and save them for later. There are both free and paid subscriptions of mind mapping software and a quick search reveals several options for users.

Before beginning the mind map, whether by hand or computer generated, the group should agree on the central topic, question or issue. If using this for strategic planning, for example, the central question might include one of the following:

  • What should we do to further our mission?
  • What doesn’t exist that we want to create; and what exists that we want to enhance?
  • Given our past, current status, mission and future vision, what should be our primary areas of concern?

Have participants take a few minutes to silently write down some ideas for the map. Then ask each person to contribute an idea. Write the key words of this topic in the center of the map. The facilitator can begin with categories from the participants on the outside edges of the map, or the categories can emerge as ideas are mapped simultaneously.

As participants give new ideas, the facilitator can help make connections to the thoughts. Participants will help direct this mapping process. In this way, ideas are organized by the group as they are added to the map. The facilitator continues to ask each person, “What else?” until all ideas are mapped.

Once the map is completed, discuss the results. Have participants react to the outcome by asking questions such as: What does this map mean for you? How can it help us as we move forward? What did you like about the process? What didn’t you like?

Next steps could include using a voting procedure, such as that used in the “Sticky Dot Voting” tool to prioritize ideas generated. Follow this with further analysis of the priorities or with action planning.

Michigan State University Extension offers training for elected and appointed officials for improved effectiveness in several areas, including various public policy issues and effects of government programs, regulation, incentives, strategies and more, as well as professional training in Parliamentary Procedure. By working together with local elected and appointed officials, and interested citizens, Michigan State University Extension is able to provide education on critical local and state issues.

Photo credit: Creately.com

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