Affinity mapping

An affinity map (or affinity diagram) is a method of sorting large amounts of data into defined logical groups. According to Cogenisys “affinity mapping is, at its heart, quite simple. It’s the act of placing similar things near each other and separating those that don’t. The idea is to start seeing patterns and themes in your qualitative data.” As a method it is excellent for making sense of messy and ill defined research areas. But you will get through a lot of post it notes.

For a quick overview, take a look at this definition by Service Design Tools which begins by describing it as “a creative process used for gathering and organizing large amounts of datas, ideas and insights by evidencing their natural correlations”.

Here is a fairly straight forward explanation of how to do it. It’s not exactly rocket science, but here is more fulsome detail on the method. According to the American Society of Quality (ASQ), this technique is most appropriate:

  • When you are confronted with many facts or ideas in apparent chaos
  • When issues seem too large and complex to grasp
  • When group consensus is necessary

The ASQ Affinity Diagram Procedure presents good advice on how to approach it.

According to the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement “The use of affinity diagrams encourages people to think inventively and make non traditional connections of ideas. The process promotes greater ownership of results, allowing breakthroughs to emerge naturally.” The NHS site also references a range of other very useful research techniques.

The basic principle of affinity mapping can be developed and adapted. The talk by Maria Maclennan this week showed how she evolved the idea into a form of affinity jewellery. Remember the rule about research methods: they are creative and transformative.

Photo linked in this post from Jo Hodge (ex MDes) 


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