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What is solution mapping?

Maggie Pearce is Impact’s Head of Global Practice and is responsible for developing Impact’s Solution Mapping approach. In this article, Maggie answers questions about Solution Mapping.

What is Solution Mapping?
 

Solution Mapping is a process that we facilitate with our clients and their key stakeholders – it is, in effect, Impact’s consulting framework. Solution Mapping is based around six key areas and prompts us to discuss each of these areas before arriving at a statement that clearly articulates the purpose of the intervention.

Where have you found that Solution Mapping has made the greatest difference for clients?
 

Clients often find themselves torn between competing priorities from their various internal stakeholders and also expected to provide clear business results within an unclear business context.

Solution Mapping gives our clients a clear output that their stakeholders can either participate in producing or, at the very least, sign off on. This shared understanding of the purpose of an intervention, as well as the rationale and assumptions that underpin it, ensures that all parties are ‘on the same page’ from the outset. It also makes for a much smoother and more effective design and evaluation process.

What are the key areas within Solution Mapping?

  • Business Context - What are the business needs and nature of the change required?
  • Development Focus - Given the business context, what is the particular focus of the development?
  • Learning Objectives - What learning objectives do the business context and development focus prompt and are the objectives clear, measurable and fully aligned with the context and focus?
  • Learning Activities - What learning activities should be included and will they address all learning objectives?
  • Development Outcomes - What changes in behaviour, mindset or knowledge do we expect to see and are they realistic, given the focus, objectives and learning activities?
  • Business Results - Where will the impact of this development be visible in business data or tangible results?

Do you have to discuss these areas in a set sequence?
 

There’s no need to follow a set sequence, as long as the conversation ends with all areas having been addressed, so that we can create a concise statement that articulates the purpose for the intervention.

It is also important to check and challenge any assumptions that exist between the areas. For example, when looking at Development Focus we should ask questions such as; “Does this focus reflect and support the business need? What aspects of the business need won’t be covered and will it be an issue if they are not? On one occasion, when exploring the links between the Business Context and Development Focus, it became clear that the focus should not have been on the development of leadership skills for a group of middle managers who, ‘lacked initiative’, as was originally thought, but should, instead, have been on the development of coaching and challenging skills of a much smaller group of senior managers who were failing to delegate effectively. Without Solution Mapping we may have found ourselves focused on the middle managers, but failing to make a difference to the business due to this significant skill gap at senior manager level.

Does Solution Mapping take time to do?
 

I usually allow a half-day for Solution Mapping and find that it actually saves a lot of time in the long run, due to the additional clarity that it brings to the design and evaluation process. The time spent gaining the involvement and support of key stakeholders at the outset also reduces that chance that the initiative is challenged or derailed at a later date.

What is your favourite aspect of Solution Mapping?
 

My favourite aspect is the ‘Purpose’ bit – this is where we collectively draft the statement that reflects and articulates the purpose of the program. Whilst it’s probably the most challenging part of the process, it’s great for quickly bringing to light any differences of understanding, so that they can be discussed and resolved. It’s also a useful way of cross checking that all aspects of the Learning Map have been addressed. Part of the challenge of writing the purpose statement is the fact that it has to be concise. We limit the purpose statement to a couple of lines, so that the purpose is as clear as possible and not open to interpretation. Clients tell me that this gives them the confidence to manage senior leader expectations at their end and prevent scope creep.

Who needs to be involved for best results?


This varies from one client to the next, however, as a guide we suggest that clients invite the stakeholders whose insight and involvement is likely to have the greatest impact on the success of the intervention. This could be due to their knowledge of the target audience and their needs or as a way of ensuring their buy-in and support for the initiative. Where it’s not possible to involve key stakeholders in the creation of the Solution Map, I have found that senior leaders, in particular, appreciate the opportunity to review and edit a first draft and engage in the Solution Mapping process that way.

How does Solution Mapping help with evaluation?
 

If you know what you are trying to achieve, it is relatively straightforward to determine if you have achieved it or not. However, the challenge with evaluation is that the purpose and objectives for an intervention are not always clear or linked to tangible behavioural and business outcomes. In addition, evaluation is also often seen as something that is addressed at the end of an initiative. We use Solution Mapping to achieve this clarity at the beginning of the design process and, working in partnership with our clients, frequently review progress throughout the initiative, ensuring that on-going evaluation is a feature of our approach.

Would you like to know more about Solution Mapping? If so contact Maggie directly.