Group Concept Mapping Resource Guide

In this resource guide you will find basic information about Group Concept Mapping (GCM), in an easy to use format.

Resource Guide

Links are also provided to external resources to expand on the information provided in this guide.

This information will help researchers:

  • learn about the method,
  • understand the situations where GCM is used,
  • review the work of other GCM researchers,
  • know the resources available to support GCM projects,
  • consider and plan their research, and
  • think about disseminating their results.

Please click on items in the left hand menu to review the information and links in that category.

What is GCM?

Group Concept Mapping (GCM) is a reliable method and tool for participatory research. For nearly 30 years, GCM’s mixed methods tools and approaches have helped researchers and organizations articulate issues, solve problems, and develop results that support measurable progress. GCM’s structured yet flexible method values the voice of those related to the issue, and captures and organizes the ideas of a group on any topic of interest, representing those ideas visually in a series of interrelated maps. It combines qualitative data collection approaches with quantitative analysis processes and tools.

GCM seeks and values the voices of stakeholders and applies rigorous analytics to opinions, beliefs, and values to yield a visual framework. The results are a mirror to the stakeholders’ perceptions and values and support the organization’s priorities with results that are relevant and immediately usable.

A brief introduction to the method can be found on Wikipedia.

Once you decide to learn more about Group Concept Mapping, a good place to begin is with any of the four primary texts.

The most up-to-date explanation of the methodology with real-life examples of GCM’s application in a range of fields:

Kane, M. & Rosas, S. (2017). Conversations about group concept mapping:
Applications, examples, and enhancements.
Thousand Oaks, CA:
. Also available on Amazon

The first and only textbook with a chapter dedicated to each step in the process:

Kane, M. & Trochim, W.M.K. (2007). Concept mapping for planning and
. Thousand Oaks, CA:
Sage Publications. Also available on Amazon

To understand the components necessary for a high-quality GCM study, review:

Rosas, S. R. & Kane, M. (2012). Quality and rigor of the concept mapping
methodology: A pooled study analysis. Evaluation Program Planning,
35(2), 236-245. doi:

An early primary text is:

Trochim, W. (1989). An introduction to concept mapping for evaluation and
planning. Evaluation and Program Planning, 12(1), 1-16.

doi: 10.1016/0149-7189(89)90016-5.

Researchers use GCM to:

  • Engage their community
  • Build logic models
  • Construct frameworks
  • Identify organizational priorities
  • Develop measures and indicators
  • Assess outcomes and impacts

As a flexible but structured process, GCM helps examine any content area or problem where the knowledge and opinions of stakeholders are paramount to the research.

Since GCM is scalable, a small group or a very large global organization can use GCM. Although its roots are in face to face group work, for almost 20 years GCM’s use in large, distributed communities is the norm. With the GCM web-based platform groupwisdom™, the reach is expanded nationally or internationally.

Inclusively valuing the voices of those affected by, or knowledgeable about, an issue is a key tenet of GCM, and participants can be involved in many different ways. Democratizing participation helps to foster good results, ready adoption and buy-in.

GCM converts the ideas and opinions of people to data, and produces visual outputs—concept maps, pattern matches and reports that display the group’s thinking on the issue at hand.

There are 6 steps to Group Concept Mapping.

  1. Preparation: This step includes standard study preparation tasks such as participant sampling planning, schedule development and logistics. It also includes developing the focus prompt which will elicit ideas about the topic at hand. Potential ratings for step 3 should also be considered.
  2. Idea Generation: This step is also known as brainstorming. Participants are invited to respond to the focus prompt until a saturation of the topic is compiled. The project administrator then reviews the qualitative information collected for clarity and duplicate ideas leading to a final statement set of about 100 ideas.
  3. Structuring: There are 3 parts to the structuring phase:
    1. Demographic questions are asked that will assist with analysis of data. The final statement set is provided to participants.
    2. Participants individually sort the statements into piles of conceptually similar statements.
    3. Participants rate statements using provided scale(s). Some examples of common scales include relative importance, criticality, feasibility or current presence.
  4. Group Concept Mapping Analysis: In addition to assisting with data collection, technology is especially helpful to assist with analysis of the sorting and rating data.
      1. Each participant’s individual conceptual sorting data is compiled into a similarity matrix which shows the frequency of how many times statements were sorted together:
      2. Technology applies a multidimensional scaling algorithm to plot points that were frequently sorted closer together. Items not frequently sorted together will be plotted further from each other. Multidimensional scaling results in the point map:
      3. Technology then applies hierarchical cluster analysis using Ward’s Method to group statements that are closest to one another. The project administrator reviews how these groupings come together to discern how participants saw statements relating to one another:
      4. When participants completed their sorting activity, they named their piles. These pile titles, along with the statements within the clusters help the administrator to name the themes that have emerged:
      5. Once the map is developed, the ratings can be overlaid to understand the value participants provided during structuring. At the cluster level, Pattern Matches may show trends or provide a visual way to see comparisons or differences in how clusters were rated:
      6. At the statement level, the average value(s) attributed to statements can be reviewed using Go-Zones. Below are how to read a Go-Zone and an example of cluster Go-Zone.

  5. Interpreting the Maps: Frequently the project administrator(s) will return to the participants to present the final maps and figures. They then receive confirmation on the pile titles and assistance with interpreting the emerging themes. The participants also can comment on the ratings overlay by reviewing the Pattern Matches and Go-Zones.
  6. Utilization: The participant authored framework and priorities that have emerged from the ratings are used to enhance planning or evaluation strategies. The use of the results is only limited by the creativity of the group.

Group Concept Mapping is a statistically rigorous methodology that has been used in over 400 published projects.

There are three levels of foundational publications for Group Concept Mapping:

Methodology Publications: These publications, build on the four primary texts to add further knowledge about the Group Concept Mapping methodology and the best practices associated with its conduct.

Statistical Analysis References: These publications describe the statistical components used in the conduct of Group Concept Mapping.

Application Publications: These publications describe applications of Group Concept Mapping in specific situations or in conjunction with other methodologies.

Using technology to do Group Concept Mapping is essential. Contemporary web-based platforms have expanded GCM participation and conduct. The process of conducting a GCM inquiry includes three major task sets:

  • Management and administration processes,
  • Participation activities (Brainstorming, Sorting, Ratings, Demographics), and
  • Data manipulation, analysis, and output.

The 4 primary texts mentioned above describe the basic methodology. Nearly 300 publications from 2010-2017 referenced the use of technology, the great majority (80%) of which reference the use of groupwisdom™ or its previous versions between 1989 and 2018. Other technology is used or adapted for GCM. Additional information about the technologies used to conduct GCM can be found in Appendix C of Kane, M. & Rosas, S. (2017). Conversations about group concept mapping: Applications, examples, and enhancements.

groupwisdom™ web-based application is a proprietary software developed specifically to conduct and analyze Group Concept Mapping research. This software was developed by Concept Systems, Inc. (CSI). CSI is the world leader in Group Concept Mapping (GCM), a process and technology that produces Group Wisdom for organizations, agencies and communities.

Research requires the support of both stakeholders and funders. Researchers are frequently asked for their reasons for using certain methodologies. It can be helpful to know how a method has been used before in similar topic areas.

Group Concept Mapping bibliographies by major topics have been compiled to assist researchers in reviewing studies that have been completed in their area of focus.

One bibliography contains peer-reviewed publications using our software which can be keyword searched. This can be helpful for researchers conducting research in topic areas that do not have a topic specific bibliography. Concept Systems also provides contact information on that page if you would like more information on a particular area of research.

groupwisdom™ is the only platform specifically designed to support the collection of Group Concept Mapping data and analyze that data within the same cloud-based platform. The application supports participant idea generation and the subsequent sorting and rating of the ideas collected. It allows researchers to review the data collected to perform quality checks. groupwisdom™ then completes the necessary steps to develop similarity matrices of the sort data needed to complete multidimensional scaling to develop the point maps and the hierarchical cluster analysis to help researchers determine the best cluster solution and make their final cluster map. The technology also allows researchers to analyze their participants’ sort pile labels that were most similar to the final clusters. Then the system allows the researcher to overlay the participants’ average rating information to make pattern matches and go-zones.

Concept Systems, Inc. is a full-service company that will work with researchers to ensure quality projects are completed. The leading experts in Group Concept Mapping can be hired to consult on your project. Support is available at a variety of levels from those needing assistance with project design to those who would like to use innovative methods to reach stakeholders or interweave other methods with Group Concept Mapping. Learn more about our Expert Project Support.

There are several opportunities to increase your knowledge of GCM. Additional information on each of these can be found on our Training and Support pages.

You can attend a one-hour introductory webinar, The Intro to Group Concept Mapping and groupwisdom where you will learn the basics of the Group Concept Mapping methodology (GCM), and explore how our application, groupwisdom™, helps facilitate the entire process. We discuss best practices in creating a successful Group Concept Mapping project and explain key steps from planning, design, management, data analysis and use.

You can access a free self-directed learning course entitled Introduction to Group Concept Mapping. This self-paced course provides a basic introduction to the GCM methodology.

CSI also offers intensive workshops that completely describe the methodology and technology, and provide both practice and project coaching events for attendees. CSI conducts the workshops several times a year at their office in beautiful Ithaca, NY; and at client or group locations as well. Stay tuned to the training page, because workshops are also often coordinated along with prominent national conferences.

To start your Group Concept Mapping Project, licenses can be purchased from Concept Systems. Helpful salespeople will ensure that you purchase the features and support you require to complete your project. With pricing options for graduate students, not-for-profits, and commercial entities, there is a price range that makes this methodology accessible to all researchers. Licensees are supported with recorded technical webinars and software guides.

You have completed a successful GCM project using groupwisdom™ and now you want to share it with the world. Publications have word and figure limits and you have a lot of information and figures from your study. This is when it is especially helpful to review other GCM studies, especially those published in the journal you are intending to submit to.

Essential components of describing GCM data collection are:

  • Description of your participants (who did you invite, who participated and at which phases of the project),
  • The focus prompt for the project,
  • Description of how you collected the ideas,
  • Brief explanation of idea synthesis and the final statement set,
  • Description of how participants sorted (online or in-person),
  • The rating scales posed to participants.

Essential components of describing GCM Results are:

  • The stress value computed for the MDS representation of the sort data,
  • The final number of clusters chosen,
  • The story the map told you,
  • Discussion of the ratings overlay onto the conceptual framework.

Most projects cite one of the four primary texts we discussed at the beginning of this guide. Typically, proprietary software is also cited. Please note the build number will change and can be found at the bottom of the screen. The citation for groupwisdom™ is:

MLA and APA Citation Templates

APA format (The Concept System® groupwisdom™):

The Concept System® groupwisdom™ (Build 2022.24.01) [Web-based Platform]. (2021).
     Ithaca, NY. Available from

MLA format (The Concept System® groupwisdom™):

The Concept System® groupwisdom™. Build 2022.24.01. Web-based Platform. Concept
     Systems, Incorporated, 2021. Browser based statistical platform, available from

APA format (The Concept System® Global MAX™):

The Concept System® Global MAX™ (Build 2022.273.21) [Web-based Platform]. (2021).
     Ithaca, NY. Available from

MLA format (The Concept System® Global MAX™):

The Concept System® Global MAX™. Build 2022.273.21. Web-based Platform. Concept
     Systems, Incorporated, 2021. Browser based statistical platform, available from

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