I’ve just come across that rare item, an article about Action Mapping. Miranda Verswijvelen, an instructional designer in New Zealand is clearly very experienced in running AM sessions and she recognises that while AM is easy to learn it’s not always easy to actually do. That’s what led Howie Pearson and me to design an Action Mapping in Practice workshop which we’ll be publicising in the new year.
I’d recommend Miranda’s article in its entirety, but I’d like to pull out a few points here.
- Miranda makes a strong point that you need to begin by building some rapport with the SME and/or sponsor. They may be coming to the meeting with quite a different mindset from you. They may be expecting to hand over a pile of content, maybe the slides of a face to face course, for you to make something ‘engaging’ out of. So it may not be best to hit them with ‘I’ve got this technique I’d like to use with you’
- I’ve been fortunate sometimes in that people approached me because they wanted an Action Mapping session. With others, I’ve spent a bit of time describing the model and why I use it – it will bring the training closer to what happens in the workplace, it’ll be more engaging because it’ll be believable and realistic, and it’ll be easier to evaluate. But that’s not always the best angle, because the best solution to the problem may not be training. But you’ve already ‘given ground’ by talking about a training solution. Miranda takes the line ‘ I just want to make sure I understand the problem thoroughly’ as does Cathy Moore in her book Map-It. The difference I think is that Cathy tends to suggest starting from ‘I want to understand …’ rather than even mentioning Action Mapping. It’s just a series of questions you like to work through to make sure you understand why they’ve come to you and what you can provide that will resolve their concerns.
In recent sessions I’ve tended to side step it by going straight into a different kind of visual map, a process map with stick figures in different places on the page and arrows indicating what flows from one group to another or how they regard each other. This gets people talking, and helps me ask naive questions so that I’m not struggling with their terminology. Having got started with drawings and diagrams it’s an easy step to move to Action Mapping without making too much of a fuss about it.
Miranda approaches the start in a more unstructured way as you’ll see in the article and I’m sure that works well too.
- She also emphasises active listening. If we know Action Mapping it’s tempting to want to nudge them toward the kind of measures we expect to write, the ideal number of behaviours, a simple choice between the four reasons for poor performance – in other words getting a neat Action Map. We have to be on our guard for that; it’s the same as formulating our answers while they’re talking – we’re not really listening. I know this is an area for me to improve.
- Miranda’s notes on what constitutes an outline design document are good. I’ve seen design documents that would crush a line of cars. I doubt if anyone read beyond page 17.
- Finally there’s the question of how you document an Action Mapping session, both during and afterwards. I’m always torn between the physicality of being able to move around and write on flipcharts or whiteboards, and the ‘neatness’ of building the map in digital format, whether in Powerpoint or mindmap software. There’s something about sitting typing, even if you’re drawing coloured balloons, that kills the energy of a session. But who loves typing up flipcharts? Miranda’s solution is to present a digital ‘cleaned up’ mindmap with photos of any whiteboard completed during the session, so I imagine she’s quite an active facilitator.