The answer to the question “what’s the difference between map-reading, map-making and map-testing?”

Why is is often difficult to distinguish between conceptual map-reading, map-testing, and map-making? Set theory provides one explanation

Big maps have little maps…

One explanation is that any conceptual map draws on other previously created maps. Sometimes you will find yourself reading a map, which itself indicates some map-testing that had gone on during the map-making. From that starting-point it can be seen that map-reading, map-testing, and map-making are not totally isolated one from the others.

Sets within sets

In set theory, the concept might be examined as overlapping sets (Venn diagrams). This offers hope of isolating out the three ‘pure’ processes, plus various examples of overlaps, including the triple overlap of map-reading, testing, and making.

Recursiveness in systems

A related way of looking at it (another mapping) is through the wider systems notion indicated above of recursiveness. This proposes that systems replicate fundamental aspects of themselves at different levels of system. (Think biological cells, organs, individuals, sub-species etc).

That’s why the question does not have a simple answer

We have two theoretical possibilities suggesting why the question does not have a simple answer.

The good news

The good news is that those same principles can be put to positive use, as you reflect on your own mapping processes. If you believe you are primarily map-making, that’s your map of what you are doing. If you are testing (beliefs), you are map-testing (beliefs). This ‘get out of conceptual goal’ card relies on another powerful map known as the interpretative or sometimes the sense-making map. But that would be the subject for another post

An example from Tennis

I’m ‘reading’ (literally, on my PC) an account of the tennis battle at the Australian Open between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. The score is one set all. The commentators say that Djokovic is fatiguing. That’s their ‘read’ of what’s happening. Someone adds ‘he sometimes appear to be struggling but isn’t’. That’s testing the fatigue idea.

I am noting the evidence that Murray may be having a mid-match slump or nerves. That’s testing another idea.

Djokovic recovers from his apparent fatigue. Does this test conclusively refute the ‘fatigue’ idea? Do we need the more subtle idea of ebbs and flows of energy?

Commentator says: “Whoever wins this set wins the match. That’s not a fact, that’s just what I think might happen”. Notice how the commentator shows awareness of the difference between a fact and a ‘map reading’ of ‘what might happen’.

Djokovic eventually wins a close match lasting nearly five hours. Murray on interview ‘reads’ the experience as evidence he is getting closer to the play of the World No 1 (and to Nos 2 and 3, Nadal and Federer)

Think map-reading as sense making

The Tennis story also shows how conceptual map-reading is rather like examining and making sense of a map.


6 Responses to The answer to the question “what’s the difference between map-reading, map-making and map-testing?”

  1. Tudor what do you think of this for as a starting point for my map making system? I dreamed it up the other day.

    I was browsing Google Scholar and stumbled on a paper. It sited Kuhn (1963). I was able to click and view all the papers and book which cited it. Then Google offered me the opportunity to get “alerts” , e-mails notifying me of new papers referencing this book.

    Every few days I get a list of ten or so new publication citing Kuhn. Aside from being a varied read — I thing it is also an interesting map making approach in its own right.

    Sachs (2011) identifies problem solving using “systems thinking” as key skills for the future. Seeking to “frame” my map-making activity in systems thinking I wondered if if Stafford Beers recursive Viable System Model would be of any help.

    I brief glace though his work lead me to believe that my activity was basically a “System 3*” activity within my personal System 4. At another level of recursion — that of knowledge production.

    System 3*, as I understand it, is a deep-yet-random-audit or a “walk in a ramified system” as Beer puts it in one of his earlier works.

    I am thinking I am map-making by adding the newest literature I will capture some valuable information claiming to challenge Kuhnian paradigms with minimal noise, or unwanted information. The results of my monitoring so far have relieved very little noise and what noise does occur has a certain comic value.

    I am wondering how important variety attention is in map-making.
    (in haste)

  2. adigheo says:

    After reading Tudors entry and the response from Nimble-Monkey I had a flash-back. Uni, years ago, teacher draws a bottle, water, carbonic acid, basically a deconstructed bottle of sparkling water, stating loudly: “this is a system – welcome to the systems theory course”. The course proved to be far more challenging and interesting than the model presented on day one.

    Systems theory and GEL mapping

    A “defined” system can be simple or as complex as needed plus it will serve a purpose. I understand that the same basic principles apply to the map read-test-make process. My observation is that the map doesn’t exist without it’s maker, and the map aims to meet the maker’s need.

    Whilst I agree with the analogy between the systems theory and the mapping principles, I feel the systems theory tends to provide more rigour and a more axiomatic approach in the domains where it is applied. (posterity will address the pros/cons supporting this argument)

    Map-testing, the challenge

    Assume I have made a map and now I want to check it’s viability. For that I propose two simple steps. First, asses the relative accuracy of the relevant building blocks used in the map; and second firm up the map’s purpose.

    The process described above sounds complicated because we use notions such as “relative, relevant, and purpose”.

    Consequently, applying the process above to the blog writing for GEL raises the following question: how do I know when it’s done and if it’s right?

    Imagine the blog being similar with a 3D image. It contains messages and context. It is blurred and hard to experience the wow effect unless the viewer wears the 3D glasses. So it’s the blog entry unless the viewer is provided the special glasess.

    Proposed process

    To address the potential blur issue I would need to provide the viewer with the special glasses. For the blog that is in the cues and hints demonstrating that the blog creation has followed the steps described in the mapping process. The viewer may not like the 3D image but can now appreciate its value.

    – chose topic
    – determine key messages to share
    – research and distill key findings mapped to key messages above
    – reference the different sources
    – add the personal view on the key messages – new, radical
    – support position with stated (rational) reasons
    – state the validity question of the key message (dilemma)
    – succinct and concise will ensure the <500 words target

    That's how I see it today – comments?

  3. adigheo says:

    I should have used “similar to” instead of “similar with” in my note above. Acceptable English doesn’t include “similar with” and if you notice other examples of bad english in my note above be kind and let me know please.

  4. Tamer Karam says:

    Thanks Dr. Tudor for much explanation for the confused concept. I highly agree with your opinions about; map- reading is about making sense for what we perceive. I believe the whole process is about making connection between people past efforts and specific individual logic along with certain personal contributions to validate the given information.

  5. WRT adigheo January 28, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    You comment is wonderful and quite unexpected, from my perspective at least.

    Since writing my comment I have had some interesting conversations with some systems modelers; one models economic systems using Winsolve a bespoke software package, the other models organisations using Matlab, a maths package.

    One key theme has been real time mapping, the real time updating of a map. Historical cases include the control room built for the battle of Britain under the supervision of Hugh Dowding, laying the foundations for aircraft control towers at airports. I am reliably informed that the time lag was less than 10 seconds, not bad for a pre-computer age model. In the early 1970 Stafford Beer’s attempt at making real time model of the economy of the economy, while not a success, has become iconic — perhaps because of the futuristic appearance of the control room.

    In 2012 real-time monitoring is within the grasp of anyone with a smart phone or laptop. I use Tweetdeck to monitor Twitter. I have perhaps 20 odd channels I monitor, from places I am interested in, to concepts (like “requisite variety”) or areas I think reveal interesting leadership issues (“#occupy”) . This activity helps me find people doing similar things. Over time a network has built up, a real time monitoring system.

    In the future, perhaps blog and tweets can be combined with maps of organisations, maps produced by models overlaid with a hypertextual discourse.

    Each reader of such a map will still have different purposes, as does each creator. I am not convinced that it is possible to “firm up the map’s purpose.” It does what it does, or as systems people enjoy saying “The Purpose of the System is what it does”, POSIWID

    As a footnote, anyone interested in cybernetic and the state, (real time constitution anyone?) might like to attend a seminar given by Javier Livas this thursday. Livas worked with Beer and has produced a number of videos on youtube explaining his ideas and written a book. More details here :

  6. Thanks NM…
    I’m having a go at reworking the post acknowledging these comments. May just add this as another comment so ‘watch this space’.

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