Ripple Effect Mapping

August 7, 2020 Jaskiran Gakhal, Participedia Team
July 28, 2020 Joyce Wong

REM enables communities to visually document and assess "broad or deep changes in group, organization, or community" after "in-depth interventions or collaborations." [1]

Problems and Purpose

Community engagement efforts can lead to many changes in the community. However, direct impacts can be difficult to track. As a participatory group process, Ripple Effect Mapping invites program participants to reflect, visually map, and assess intended and unintended changes or impacts of the program. Through REM, participants can tell their story of impact through identifying the ripple effects of a community intervention.  

Origins and Development

REM was developed through the merging of two separate evaluation efforts: the Community Capitals Framework (CCF) and the Horizons Program. The Community Capitals Framework evaluation uses seven indicators to analyze a “community ecosystem.” [2] The seven "capitals" in a community are natural, cultural, human, social, political, financial, and built. Mapping CCF was first applied to tracking how “using assets in one capital could build assets in others.” [3] 

REM also emerged from the evaluation work of the Horizons Program, an 18-month community centered initiative to reduce poverty. The Horizon Program asked participants from various Horizon communities to share their individual stories, which were then coded with the CCF. Both efforts converged to create a powerful participatory data collection method that is now known as REM.

Participant Recruitment and Selection

REM involves recruiting 8-12 or up to a maximum of 20 program participants, representing a broad spectrum of stakeholders, who can speak to the positive and negative effects they have observed and/or experienced as individuals within and across organizations, institutions, and in the community. Two co-facilitators are assigned for the ripple mapping session: one to facilitate and one to keep time and take notes. [4]

How it Works: Process, Interaction, and Decision-Making

Ripple Effect Mapping consists of four “core ingredients”: Appreciative Inquiry, Participatory Approach, Interactive Group Interviewing and Reflection, and Radiant Thinking (Mind Mapping). [5] These four elements can be adapted to various evaluative contexts. Below is a brief description of what the four “core ingredients” are in REM.

Appreciative Inquiry:  

The AI process creates “generative energy” and “critical, even negative reflections” when participants interview one another in pairs or in small groups. Prepared questions explore “peak experiences, successes or achievements,” “deepened or new relationships,” and “unexpected or surprising developments” from the community program or initiative guide the AI process. [6] The AI process is usually done in the beginning of a REM session.

Participatory Approach: 

In a Participatory Approach, program stakeholders shift from being “recipients of evaluative information” to active participants in the evaluation process. [7] REM enables community stakeholders to influence the decision making process from “how the AI questions are written, who is invited to the session, how and to whom participants are paired for peer-to–peer interviews” to identifying “what themes are prioritized from the data.” [8]

Interactive Group Interviewing and Reflection: 

Interactive group interviewing and reflection helps REM participants “generate new knowledge regarding the kind and extent of program impact.” [9] During REM, there are two stages of group interaction and reflection, the first being peer-to-peer interviews and then sharing the interview responses in the group. The second stage is a group reflection, which is facilitator-led.

Radiant Thinking (Mind Mapping):

Radiant Thinking refers to the “brain’s associative thought processes that derive from a central point and forms links between integrated concepts.” [10] Mind Mapping visually captures the connections among the ideas or “the chain of effects” resulting from a program.” [11] It usually begins during the reporting out section of the AI process. Mind mapping software or a large piece of paper, markers or sticky notes can be used to document the ideas and connections that participants identify.

Ripple Effect Mapping has three distinct approaches: web-mapping, in-depth rippling, and theming and rippling. In general, these three approaches involve three steps: Appreciative Inquiry (AI), Mapping Impacts, and Reflection and Closing.

Appreciative Inquiry:  

Participants can be paired up or in small groups. Each participant takes a turn answering the AI questions and sharing stories about various actions and impacts related to the community engagement program. The “listener” encourages the storyteller to provide as much detail as possible and probes for examples of how this change happened, especially noting key enabling factors. A few people are asked to share their stories or having a group report-out transitions the group into the mapping process. 

Mapping Impacts: 

A large sheet of paper, a whiteboard, or software is used for the mapping process. The project name or a topic (if using the web-mapping approach) is written into the center. Depending on what approach is taken, participants then write out what they shared directly onto the paper or with sticky notes. For example, in the in-depth rippling approach, participants take turns sharing their stories and ripple out the story using a different marker color for each ripple. [12] With the web-mapping approach, the first ripple answers the question “What are people doing differently” and the second and third ripples answer questions of expanding impact or changes. [13] In the theming and rippling approach, participants are asked to share how the community project or effort impacted the participant, community, and beyond. [14] Probing for detailed responses or for changes at all levels — individual, organizational, institutional — is critical to exploring as many connections and outcomes as possible during mapping.  


Participants reflect on the map and what they have learned from participating in the ripple mapping process. Reflection questions could include examining the most significant changes or impacts on the map, sharing new learnings that the participants gained, and/or noting possible next steps for the participants to undertake.

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

REM is an emerging, promising evaluative method for capturing impacts and changes in community engagement efforts. This method could deliver on some or all the following: 

  • Visualizing, connecting, and assessing intended or unintended outcomes, changes, or impacts to a community program, intervention, or initiative. [15] REM is a method that can “celebrate current activities” and “evaluate past work” to provide insight for possible next steps. [16] The data captured in REM could be informative not only for participating stakeholders but also for funders.
  • Participatory evaluative method: Participants can be involved with the design, evaluation, and analysis of REM sessions. Evaluators and participants leave with a “better sense of its accomplishments and a renewed vision for the future.” [17] Collaboration between the evaluator and participants empowers participants to feel “vital rather than feeling like they just had something done or extracted from them.” [18]

Analysis and Lessons Learned

REM is a flexible and adaptable method that can be utilized “across multiple settings and with various types of participants to document intended and unintended effects of a program, project, community, coalition and/or system.”[19] It is a relatively low-cost evaluative method and could lower participatory barriers such as “age, literacy level, and/or language barriers.” [20] One consideration to note is deciding when to do a REM session. Allowing more time to pass after a community initiative could result in identifying more impacts. However, it could also lead to fading memory or losing contact with the original participants.

See Also

Communities Creating Racial Equity Follow Up


[1] Chazdon, Scott; Emery, Mary; Hansen, Debra; Higgins, Lorie; Sero, Rebecca. (2017). A Field Guide to Ripple Effects Mapping. University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing, 21. Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy,

[2] Chazdon, Scott; Emery, Mary; Hansen, Debra; Higgins, Lorie; Sero, Rebecca. (2017). A Field Guide to Ripple Effects Mapping, 164.

[3] Chazdon, Scott; et al. (2017). A Field Guide to Ripple Effects Mapping, 2.

[4] Everyday Democracy. Ripple Effects Mapping For Evaluating Community Engagement, 2019.

[5] Chazdon, Scott; et al. A Field Guide to Ripple Effects Mapping, 5.

[6] Chazdon, Scott; et al. A Field Guide to Ripple Effects Mapping, 7.

[7] Chazdon, Scott; et al, 8.

[8] Chazdon, Scott; et al, 10.

[9] Chazdon, Scott; et al, 11.

[10] Buzan, T. (2003). The Mind Map Book. London: BBC Books and Bernstein, D. A., Clarke-Stewart, A., Penner, L. A., Roy, E. J., & Wickens, C. D. (2000). Psychology (5th Edition.). Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Company, 15.

[11] Chazdon, Scott; Emery, Mary; Hansen, Debra; Higgins, Lorie; Sero, Rebecca. (2017). A Field Guide to Ripple Effects Mapping, 15.

[12] Chazdon, Scott; et al, 159.

[13] Chazdon, Scott; et al, 166.

[14] Chazdon, Scott; et al, 172. 

[15] Chazdon, Scott; et al, 149. 

[16] Chazdon, Scott; et al, 154. 

[17] Chazdon, Scott; et al, 150.

[18] Chazdon, Scott; et al, 150-151. 

[19] Chazdon, Scott; et al, 150.   

[20] Chazdon, Scott; et al, 154.

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