Ripple effect mapping reveals MSU Extension program impacts

Program success documented through ripple effecting mapping with the help of MSU Extension educators.

The Ripple Effect Mapping project was part of a long-term evaluation study to document the personal and community impact of citizen participation in Michigan State University Extension’s Citizen Planner program, which offers land use education and training both on-line and in-person to locally appointed and elected planning officials throughout Michigan. Ripple effect mapping focus group sessions were held in three cities within Manistee, Kalamazoo and Oakland Counties. 

The project was planned to better understand both intended and unintended community impacts of the Citizen Planner program within each region. The project received guidance from Scott Chazdon, Ph.D., University of Minnesota Extension

The same agenda and specific questions were followed in each session and included use of appreciative inquiry techniques to elicit participant comments about the program. Our initial intent was to capture participants’ exact wording and enter those comments into a software program that creates mind maps out of the comments shared during facilitated brainstorming and radiant thinking activities.

There were approximately ­­­­­­ten participants at each session who were Citizen Planner graduates, plus an additional ten participants who did not attend the program yet were aware of local community impacts (for a total of nearly 60 participants). 

Ripple mapping was explained to participants then facilitators asked appreciative inquiry techniques to elicit participant comments and ripples related to broad Community Capital areas: Increased knowledge, Natural Resources, Community Culture, Political Authority, Community Connections, Infrastructure, and Financial Investment. The process used for each session began with the project overview and introductions where participants shared individual success stories as well as examples of increased community and professional connections. Focused participant questioning and discussion followed.

The MSU Citizen Planner Ripple Effect Mapping data indicates substantial increases in citizen knowledge and confidence (Human Capital), plus improved board or commission processes, (Political Capital), and more professional relationships with the public, the development community, and other interests the (Social Capital). All three sessions clearly demonstrated that participating in the Citizen Planner Program improved their knowledge and decision-making skills while strengthening their ability to interact with other boards and the public as a whole. Program participants believe they are more respected as public officials due to increased knowledge related to land use decisions and capacity to engage the pubic in those decisions.

The Michigan State University Extension Leadership and Community Engagement team offers professional development training, including volunteer board development, communicating through conflict, meeting management and facilitation skills development. To contact an expert in your area, visit the expert page or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464). 

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