Ripple Effect Mapping, and other MEASURE Evaluation Presentations at Evaluation 2018

MEASURE Evaluation has contributed seven presentations and two posters covering topics from gender to Twitter. This story focuses on work related to the ripple effect mapping (REM) method.

When you were a child, you almost certainly dropped pebbles into a lake or stream to watch the ripples radiate from where the projectile entered the water. You almost certainly didn’t know that an educator at the University of Minnesota would one day use his own experience of watching ripples to devise a qualitative research method known as “ripple effect mapping.” Perhaps it was inevitable that it would be he who had the brainstorm—after all, Minnesota is called the “land of 10,000 lakes.”

And what, you may wonder, does this have to do with the American Evaluation Association 2018 meeting in Cleveland, October 28–November 3? You’ll have the chance to learn about this research method and to investigate how it plays out far from its birthplace in Minnesota at the session called Ripple Effect Mapping in International Waters: How Different are the Waves? at 5:45 p.m., Wednesday, October 31.

This presentation of the ripple effect mapping (REM) method and findings from two research efforts is presented by MEASURE Evaluation. REM has been applied in a growing number of program evaluations in the United States, but its utility in global settings is unknown. Drawing from field experience in evaluations of two complex public health programs in developing countries, this session explores how REM has been adapted to measure program outcomes in different country and program contexts and how it might be used in future evaluations. Presenters will share their experience using REM in evaluation of a systems-level public-sector strengthening project in Tanzania and a program for orphans and vulnerable children and adolescents in Botswana. “It’s a new method for international health research,” says Brittany Iskarpatyoti, a gender analyst with MEASURE Evaluation and one of the presenters.

The REM method adds nuance to what can be learned from key informant interviews. For one thing, it convenes groups of stakeholders—rather than individuals—who have experienced a singular event, such as a training, or who have worked together on a project. What one group member might observe often gives rise to another thought from someone else, adding layers of context to what can be learned. Another difference: it isn’t a linear process. A key informant interview typically uses a discussion guide and moves in a logical sequence. REM invites all thinking from the group throughout the session and often sparks iterative and divergent observations. Participants are encouraged to keep thinking of every outcome or consequence they can imagine until all thoughts are mapped on the visualization—which typically resembles thought bubbles connected by solid and dotted lines.

Once the “map” is done, participants reflect on what it might mean. What is most significant? What was expected and what was not? What could be added and what could be taken away? Further conversations might be held with different levels of participants—health system managers, clinicians, project implementers, and funders—each will have their own take-aways and insights from the activity.

And the payoff to the question posed in the presentation title: how different are the waves?

In the international health research context, Iskarpatyoti says, the method reduces time and cost because participants are reflecting together in a single time and place. It may save time in analysis because the analysis occurs in real-time and findings are immediate. And, it can be a motivator. “One common feedback we got was that reflecting together on what they had done was novel,” says Iskarpatyoti.

See the full list of MEASURE Evaluation presentations and posters at the conference. 

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