Concept Map

Concept maps are an intuitive way to represent a system. Use it to show complex relationships between parts of a system in an easily readable way.

When to use it?
Frame: Concept maps help you to frame the system. Use it early in framing to make sense of complex relationships in a system and to see the big picture.

How to do it?

  1. Brainstorm a list of key concepts (nouns).

  2. Put the most important concept in the middle of the map. This may move later but provides a starting point.

  3. Add new concepts as they link to existing concepts on the map.

  4. Draw arrows and include 1-2 words to create a sentence linking the concepts.

  5. Tell the story of what your map means.

This activity works best with 1-5 people, but can be performed in groups of up to 10 people.

30 minutes to an hour.

Pros and Cons

  • Shows complexity in an intuitive way.
  • Because each node-link-node connection forms a sentence, even people who did not create the map can make sense of it.


  • Concept maps show relationships but they do not show dynamics.
  • Concept maps become less readable with size – they work best with about 10-15 nodes unless significant effort is put into the information design.


  • If you brainstorm the concepts onto post-it notes, you can move the nodes around while you are creating the map.


Additional Resources

Dubberly Concept Maps

Theory Underlying Concept Mapping