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Concept Maps

A Gift From Human & Machine Cognition


Concept maps are graphical tools for organising and representing knowledge. They help teams construct, navigate, share and critique knowledge models.



The benefits are:

  • Quicker to create than long-hand text

  • Quicker to read than long-hand text

  • More flexible than Mind-maps

  • Develops a holistic view

  • Sparks ideation, insight & innovation.



I became an enthusiastic concept-mapper back in the mid '90s. I had been a fan of Mind-mapping before that but found its recursive branch structure limiting. These days I create dozens of Concept maps on all projects and across almost every aspect of change..

Concept maps are a visual way to organise your thoughts and make connections between ideas. They improve our ability to understand, share and remember concepts.

Concept maps consist of three elements: shapes, arrows, and text. The subject is at the top and the related ideas become more specific as you move down the map. In this way, concept maps are different from Mind-maps that just have information in every direction around a subject.

Also Mind-maps place emphasis on the branches rather than links between concepts. Relationship links are made explicit in Concept-mapping.

The two linked concepts with the relationship is called a preposition:

The relationship between concepts uses linking phrases such as ‘causes’, ‘requires’, ‘contributes to', or as in the example below, ‘examples are’ and ‘are triggered by’. And, of course, many others - I’m sure you get the drift.

In a concept map, each word or phrase connects to another, and links back to the original idea, word, or phrase. Concept maps are a way to develop early ideas or assumptions and see the larger whole. Concept maps work best when you start with a 'Focus Question', however, if you're stuck you might use a Concept map to create one!


Concept maps and

Adaptive Change Design

Concept maps can be used to think-through one or more questions at any point in the Adaptive Change Design process. However, they are particularly useful following a VIPER session, or to look more deeply into risk cause & effect ( see also Rumsfeldian Risk Analysis), and to explore the dependancies between activities on a transformation map (see also T-maps).

Concept maps are one of the most reusable tools in the ACD Toolkit. They apply to any or all stages of the Adaptive Change Design lifecycle. And the flexibility of Concept maps means they sit comfortably with any other tool (ACD tools or others).

You don’t need to use particular software to create concept maps, however, we wholeheartedly recommend Cmaptools.

Here's an example Concept Map used to help organise early ideas for the Adaptive Change Design website:


Go to ACD Cockpit

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