Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Using Mind Maps to Facilitate Participant Recall in Qualitative Research

Article excerpt

Since the 1950s increased internationalization in the economic, political, and social spheres through multiple forms of globalization has led to greater interpersonal cross-cultural contact. Whatever the opportunities to learn and expand personal, professional, and business networks, it has become clear that cross-cultural training can facilitate more effective interactions (Black & Mendenhall, 1990). An area of specific immediate interest is interactions that occur through international development assistance projects. Some argue for development assessments that solely focus on quantifying development outcomes (Fisman & Miguel, 2008), but too often this data sidesteps the views of those for whom the reforms are purportedly designed. Because development projects operate at the intersection of economic, legal, environmental, social, and cultural aspects of a society (Morrison, 1998), there has been a growing recognition of the importance of translating intercultural mis-understandings in project design, delivery, and research (Timonen, 2008).

Qualitative research provides an important means to do so. By focusing on individualistic accounts of knowledge, experience, and perception, meaning is discovered through social interactions and the ways in which an individual constructs, frames, and describes one's past. Focused on precision (Winter, 2000) and credibility (Hoepf, 1997), qualitative researchers have begun to acknowledge that the approach chosen by the researcher shapes subsequent research interactions (Feyerbend, 1978). While the trend toward reflexivity (Macbeth, 2001) has helped to explicitly outline the role of the researcher in qualitative research, other researchers are developing new means of data collection. These include vignette responses, subject-operated cameras/videos/sound recordings, focus groups, and journaling (Wheeldon & Faubert, 2009). Mind maps may offer yet another means. By allowing a means for participants to break out of the rehearsed narratives of their daily lives (Hathaway & Atkinson, 2003), the use of maps may facilitate more detailed, and in-depth reflections of experience. Maps may provide an entry point into the unadulterated views of participants. Through the graphic construction of experience, researchers can get another view of how participants see the world (Wheeldon & Faubert). Maps may allow for a means to share experience less mitigated by linguistic constructions, culturally grounded understandings, and mutual accommodations (Habermas, 1976).

Based on data collected from 19 Latvian project participants over two years, I argue that mind maps provided a useful means for participants to frame their experience of a Canadian-funded legal reform project. Through a variety of means designed to compare the depth and detail of reflections between both those who did and did not complete concept maps, it appears that mind maps assisted participants by promoting and accessing past memories. Based on interviews with those who completed a mind map, there is support for the view that through the creation of a map, participants can better organize their thoughts through the graphic representation of experience. They may be especially useful when conducting cross-cultural research in which open communication may be complicated by cultural, linguistic, or social misunderstandings. While maps may offer a unique solution to these sorts of dilemmas, little is known about their specific utility and overall value in qualitative data collection.

Understanding Mind Maps

Mind maps are diagrams used to represent words, ideas, and other concepts arranged around a central word or idea. Mind maps are structurally more flexible than other sorts of maps and present ideas in a variety of ways (Buzan, 1974). While they may offer a new approach to the complexities associated with quantifying qualitative research (Sandelowski, 2001), of interest in this paper is how mind maps can be used in multi-stage qualitative data collection. …