In any problematic situation, the business manager or the consultant who tries to solve the problem has to develop a very clear and rich understanding of the problem at hand in order to reach the optimal solution. The consultant has to identify and answer to three cornerstone questions in every problematic situation:
- What is the problematic situation?
- Why is it problematic to the participants?
- What are the roots of the problem?
- How could one cope and solve the problem at hand?
Hence, the context of the problematic situation must be defined. This can be done with the help of a graphical representation, in order to facilitate the participants to perform a comparison of the solutions that will be derived. The above can be performed with the usage of the cognitive mapping approach.
Cognitive mapping is an approach to working with clients. According to Rosenhead, “it is the label for the general task of mapping a person’s cognitions within the field of psychological research on perception”. The language consists of the basic currency with which the consultant or the business facilitator tries to solve the problem at hand. The models which are produced with the client are designed to represent the different patterns with which a person defines an issue. Cognitive mapping provides powerful insights and assists in the exploration of the interaction between objectives and strategies.
The main difference of cognitive mapping approach in terms of the conventional methods is the way that the approach deals with values that derived from the whole process. In plain words, the approach focuses on addressing complexity by depicting several objectives of different participants in order to capture the total values among individuals.
The maps also are “directed graphs” that contain a network of ideas linked by arrows. All the phrases and the lining arrows are action-oriented and are not a precise replication of the language that is used by a person. They are simply a modification of language used by a person.
Sometimes the first phrase of one concept relates to the second phrase of the other concept; if this is the case, the map indicates the nature of the argumentation by adding a negative sign to the end of an arrow. Often, this helps the consultant to see the problem faced by the organization, by looking at the first poles of the concepts. In addition, in some cases, the negative signs may reveal a problematics area, whereas the client defines the first phrases as problematics and the second phrases of the concepts the worlds or the actions that the organization could seek for solutions.
However, one should bear in mind that the approach not only seeks to explore all facets of the problematic situation, but also seeks to bring a consensus between the members of an organization and a commitment action.