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REM Introduction

Program Contact: Debra Hansen, Director
(509) 684-2588 •

Ripple Effects Mapping: An Effective Tool for Identifying Community Development Program

For Extension and research professionals working in community development, advancing the field and conveying its public value is hindered when it is difficult to identify and measure all the impacts of community development programs. Identifying impacts of community development work is often challenging due to several factors.  First, there is almost always a time lag between knowledge gained, behaviors undertaken and impacts realized. For example, it may be months or a year or more before someone taking a course on starting a small business actually writes a business plan, applies for a loan or quits their day job to become a full time entrepreneur.

Pre-post evaluations and follow-up surveys aren’t guaranteed to elicit all the indirect “ripple effects” of a program either. Standard survey approaches may capture a percentage of participants reporting having learned something and provide participation numbers and measures of indicators that can be counted, but these evaluation methods rarely convey the stories of how Extension programs change lives and communities.  Someone who takes a leadership course might credit the knowledge and confidence gained with starting a community garden, but not the spin-offs resulting from the garden, such as new partnerships or increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables by local children.

Moreover, community development work often focuses on building social capital, but tracking the results of new and improved relationships is difficult because there can be so many unanticipated, but fruitful outcomes when social capital is developed.

Across the Extension system, educators are finding that stories of change and success are the most effective way to convey the public value of Extension programming.  A way to capture these stories, as well as detailed numerical data, is an emerging evaluation approach called Ripple Effects Mapping (REM).  REM also provides program participants an inspiring opportunity to reflect on all the ways their work has created positive change.  Several variations of the ripple mapping process have emerged in recent years. The one described here is referred to in a recent Journal of Extension article as the “One Ripple at a Time” approach (Emery, et. al., 2015).

Description of the REM Process

Ripple Effects Mapping (REM) is a group process that requires bringing together a sufficient number of program participants in a focus group setting (Hansen, et. al., 2012).   An Appreciative Inquiry (AI) approach inquires into pathways of growth and innovation and focuses participants on program successes by having them spend time discussing several guiding questions in pairs before creating the ripple map (Cooperider, 2007).  AI questions will typically ask about how something has changed for the better as a result of the program. Questions developed for one REM process included the following:

  • Tell a story about how you and/or others have used information (e.g., trainings) from the leadership development program.
  • Is there anything you are especially proud of you’d like to share?
  • Are there any specific achievements or successes you are aware of?
  • Have you shared what you’ve learned with anyone?
  • What new resources or opportunities do you (and/or the community) have?
  • How has your and/or others’ attitudes or behaviors changed?

After the initial Appreciative Inquiry exercise, the facilitator asks participants to volunteer stories, using a large sheet of butcher paper to record the conversation.  Prompts such as “What did you do with that information/knowledge,”  “How many people were involved,” or “What was the dollar amount of the grant you received?” encourage participants to share their stories and outcomes, creating a rich and detailed narrative describing project impacts. If specific details about participant numbers, grant amounts and the like are not available at the moment, follow up interviews will be conducted afterward to obtain important details.

Developing the map as stories unfold allows participants to control themes and see resulting ripples. They often see trends in their work. For example, one community group noticed their most successful efforts started with more investments in human and social capital. Maps can be simultaneously digitized on mapping software such as Xmind, or digitized after the exercise.  Figures 1 and 2 provide  examples of REM products.

One advantage of creating a digitized map is that it allows for dissemination to communities and groups and facilitates informal and formal analysis.  Digital maps can be enlarged, laminated and shared with communities and groups, who can then use them to share accomplishments, identify goals and objectives achieved as well as less successful efforts, and informally identify projects and outcomes that had or are having many positive ripple effects. If ripples are contributing to numerous positive outcomes for youth and the community, the group may decide then to focus additional energy in this area.


produced by eXention, Enhancing Rural Community Capacity: Using Ripple Effects Mapping to  Determine Your Program Outcomes

Materials referenced in the webinar:

REM Facilitator Handout

REM.Community Capitals

University of Minnesota Extension Examples