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Resource Guide

This page is an update to the 2002 Resource Guide on Dr. Trochim’s Social Research Methods site with up-to-date links and information based on how the methodology has grown.

In this resource guide you will find basic information about Group Concept Mapping (GCM), in an easy to use format.  We also provide links to external resources to expand on the information provided in this guide.

This information will help researchers:

  • learn about the method,
  • understand the situations where GCM is used,
  • review the work of other GCM researchers,
  • know the resources available to support GCM projects,
  • consider and plan their research, and
  • think about disseminating their results.

Please click on items in the left hand menu to review the information and links in that category.

What is GCM?

Group Concept Mapping (GCM) is a reliable method and tool for participatory research. For nearly 30 years, GCM’s mixed methods tools and approaches have helped researchers and organizations to articulate issues, solve problems, and develop results that support measurable progress.  GCM’s structured yet flexible method values the voice of those related to the issue, and captures and organizes the ideas of a group on any topic of interest and represents those ideas visually in a series of interrelated maps. It combines qualitative data collection approaches with quantitative analysis processes and tools.

GCM seeks and values the voices of stakeholders and applies rigorous analytics to opinions, beliefs and values to yield a visual framework. The results are a mirror to the stakeholders’ perceptions and values and support the organization’s priorities results that are relevant and immediately usable.

A brief introduction to the method can be found on Wikipedia.

Primary Texts

Once you decide to learn more about Group Concept Mapping, a good place to begin is with any of the four primary texts.

The main text on the method and how to apply it is:

Kane, M. & Trochim, W.M.K. (2007). Concept mapping for planning and
. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Also available on Amazon

To understand the components necessary for a high-quality GCM study, review:

Rosas, S. R. & Kane, M. (2012). Quality and rigor of the concept mapping
methodology: A pooled study analysis. Evaluation Program Planning,
35(2), 236-245. doi: 10.1016/j.evalprogplan.2011.10.003.

An early primary text is:

Trochim, W. (1989). An introduction to concept mapping for evaluation and
planning. Evaluation and Program Planning, 12(1), 1-16.

 doi: 10.1016/0149-7189(89)90016-5.

For an updated methodology explanation and examples of GCM’s application in very different environments, see:

Kane, M. & Rosas, S. (2017). Conversations about group concept mapping:
Applications, examples, and enhancements.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage
Also available on Amazon

Why GCM?

Researchers use GCM to:

  • Engage their community
  • Build logic models
  • Construct frameworks
  • Identify organizational priorities
  • Develop measures and indicators
  • Assess outcomes and impacts

As a flexible but structured process, GCM helps examine any content area or problem where the knowledge and opinions of stakeholders are paramount to the research.

Since GCM is scalable, a small group or a very large global organization can use GCM.  Although its roots are in face to face group work, for almost 20 years GCM’s use in large, distributed communities is the norm; with GCM web-based platform™, the reach is expanded nationally or internationally.

Inclusively valuing the voices of those affected by, or knowledgeable about, an issue is a key tenet of GCM, and participants can be involved in many different ways.  Democratizing participation helps to foster good results, ready adoption and buy-in.

GCM converts the ideas and opinions of people to data, and produces visual outputs—concept maps, pattern matches and reports that display the group’s thinking on the issue at hand.

GCM Steps

There are 6 steps to Group Concept Mapping which are elaborated on in the book Concept Mapping for Planning and Evaluation.

  1. Structuring: There are 3 parts to the structuring phase:
    1. Demographic questions are asked that will assist with analysis of data.The final statement set is provided to participants.
    2. Participants individually sort the statements conceptually into piles of similar statements.
    3. Participants rate statements using provided scale(s). Some examples of common scales include relative importance or criticality and feasibility or current presence.
  2. Idea Generation: This step is also known as brainstorming.  Participants are invited to respond to the focus prompt until a saturation of the topic is compiled. The project administrator then reviews the qualitative information collected for clarity and duplicate ideas leading to a final statement set of about 100 ideas.
  3. Preparation: This step includes standard study preparation tasks such as participant sampling planning, schedule development and logistics. It also includes developing the focus prompt which will elicit ideas about the topic at hand. Potential ratings for step 3 should also be considered.
  4. Group Concept Mapping Analysis: In addition to assisting with data collection, technology is especially helpful to assist with analysis of the sorting and rating data.
    1. Each participant’s individual conceptual sorting data is compiled into a similarity matrix which shows the frequency of how many times statements were sorted together:RG Similarity Matrix
    2. Technology applies a multidimensional scaling algorithm to plot points that were frequently sorted closer together. Items not frequently sorted together will be plotted further from each other.  Multidimensional scaling results in the point map:RG Point Map
    3. Technology then applies hierarchical cluster analysis using Ward’s Algorithm to group statements that are closest to one another. The project administrator reviews how these groupings come together to discern how participants’ saw statements relating to one another:RG Cluster Map
    4. When participants completed their sorting activity, they named their piles. These pile titles, along with the statements within the clusters help the administrator to name the themes that have emerged:RG Labeled Cluster Map
    5. Once the map is developed, the ratings can be overlaid to understand the value participants provided during structuring. At the cluster level, Pattern Matches may show trends or provide a visual way to see comparisons or differences in how clusters were rated:RG Absolute Pattern MatchRG Relative Pattern Match
    6. At the statement level, the average value(s) attributed to statements can be reviewed using Go-Zones.  Below are how to read a Go-Zone and an example of cluster Go-Zone.RG Go-ZoneRG Cluster Go Zone
  5. Interpreting the Maps: Frequently the project administrator(s) will return to the participants to present the final maps and figures. They then receive confirmation on the pile titles and assistance with interpreting the emerging themes.  The participants also can comment on the ratings overlay by reviewing the Pattern Matches and Go-Zones.
  6. Utilization: The participant authored framework and priorities that have emerged from the ratings are used to enhance planning or evaluation strategies. The use of the results is only limited by the creativity of the group.

Foundations of GCM

Group Concept Mapping is a statistically rigorous methodology that has been used in over 400 published projects.

There are three levels of foundational publications for Group Concept Mapping:

Methodology Publications: These publications, build on the four primary texts to add further knowledge about the Group Concept Mapping methodology and the best practices associated with its conduct.

Statistical Analysis References: These publications describe the statistical components used in the conduct of Group Concept Mapping.

Application Publications: These publications describe applications of Group Concept Mapping in specific situations or in conjunction with other methodologies.


Research requires the support of both stakeholders and funders. Researchers are frequently asked for their reasons for using certain methodologies.  It can be helpful to know how a method has been used before in similar topic areas.

Group Concept Mapping bibliographies by major topics have been compiled to assist researchers in reviewing studies that have been completed in their area of focus.

One bibliography contains publications using The Concept System® which can be keyword searched. This can be helpful for researchers conducting research in topic areas that do not have a topic specific bibliography.  Concept Systems also provides contact information on that page if you would like more information on a particular area of research.


Using technology to do Group Concept Mapping is essential.  Contemporary web-based platforms have expanded GCM participation and conduct.  The process of conducting a GCM inquiry includes three major task sets:

  • Management and administration processes,
  • Participation activities (Brainstorming, Sorting, Ratings, Demographics), and
  • Data manipulation, analysis, and output.

The 4 primary texts mentioned above describe the basic methodology.  Nearly 300 publications from 2010-2017 referenced the use of technology, the great majority (80%) of which reference the use of the Concept System® or its versions between 1989 and 2018.  Other technology is used or adapted for GCM. Additional information about the technologies used to conduct GCM can be found in Appendix C of Kane, M. & Rosas, S. (2017). Conversations about group concept mapping:  Applications, examples, and enhancements.

The Concept System® web-based software is a proprietary software developed specifically to conduct and analyze Group Concept Mapping research.  This software was developed by Concept Systems, Inc. (CSI). The current cloud-based system supports both in-person and online data collection and then completes the necessary steps to develop similarity matrices of the sort required to complete multidimensional scaling to create the point maps. It also applies complete hierarchical cluster analysis and assists the researcher in finding the best cluster solution and titles for those clusters through sort pile title analysis. Finally, ratings data can be overlaid to make pattern matches.

Training Opportunities

There are several opportunities to increase your knowledge of GCM:

You can attend a 1 hour live introductory webinar, held monthly, that introduces attendees to the basics of the GCM Methodology and the software.  The Introduction to Group Concept Mapping and CS Global MAX™ webinar provides an opportunity for hands-on experience with The Concept System® and gives attendees the opportunity to ask questions.

You can access a free self-directed learning course entitled Introduction to Group Concept Mapping.  This self-paced course provides a basic introduction to the GCM methodology.


You have completed a successful GCM project and now you want to share it with the world.  Publications have word and figure limits and you have a lot of information and figures from your study.  This is when it is especially helpful to review other GCM studies, especially those published in the journal you are intending to submit to.

Essential components of describing GCM data collection are:

  • Description of your participants (who did you invite, who participated and at which phases of the project),
  • The focus prompt for the project,
  • Description of how you collected the ideas,
  • Brief explanation of idea synthesis and the final statement set,
  • Description of how participants sorted (online or in-person),
  • The rating scales posed to participants.

Essential components of describing GCM Results are:

  • The stress value computed for the MDS representation of the sort data,
  • The final number of clusters chosen,
  • The story the map told you,
  • Discussion of the ratings overlay onto the conceptual framework.

Most projects cite one of the four primary texts we discussed at the beginning of this guide.  Typically, proprietary software is also cited. The current citation for The Concept System® is:

APA format:
The Concept System® Global MAX™ (Build 2017.328.13) [Web-based
Platform]. (2018). Ithaca, NY. Available from

MLA format:
The Concept System® Global MAX™.  Build 2017.328.13.  Web-based Platform.
Concept Systems, Incorporated, 2012. Browser based statistical platform, available from

Please note the build number will change and can be found at the bottom of the screen.

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