Mind maps in public discussions

Card's author : Laurent Marseault
Card's type of licence : Creative Commons BY-SA
Testimonies : When facilitating a public discussion, have you ever had:
  • someone repeating the same idea at least 5 times?
  • two people arguing over something when they are actually saying the same without understanding each other?
  • antagonists who argue during the discussion saying "Have you seen what they did…"?
  • participants who find a lot has been done but that not much progress has been achieved?
  • ...

Well it has happened to me very often before using mind maps to help facilitation.


  • a video projector
  • a computer with freemind, X-Mind or freeplane installed on it (I prefer the last one)
  • being well trained in listening and taking synthetic notes.

In the circle at the centre I write the topic of the discussion, and I then briefly write down the elements that link back to the discussion. Mind maps are filled in gradually. Ideas are organised and then re-organised. We stay on one part of the map to focus on a new aspect of the discussion...

Situations that arise when using mind maps:

  • two people disagree on where a word should be placed in the mind map. For them, the same word conveys different ideas, and going through this map they are able to see this.
  • some ideas are easy to place on the map, yet others…In this case, I ask the group to help me find a place for this new idea; very often the difficulty comes from an idea that modifies the way previous ideas are positioned on the map; time to think about it will make the group mature.
  • making all the branches visible at the end of the discussion makes the group aware of the path followed and they very often makes them feel proud of themselves.
  • in a discussion that will be tense, we started by listing the elements of the discussion. Then we grouped them together into three groups: those that do not need discussion because we all agree right from the start; those that we would like to leave for a later stage because they are more than likely to cause difficulties, and the third one, which we started with, is those elements that we can discuss without getting overheated.

Further steps:

  • next the map can be imported to the X-Mind software to play around with the structures (organisational chart, logical diagram, chart…). When the discussion seemed to have ended, the group started to discuss new elements and to work on ideas in a whole, getting the impression that they are moving to a higher level of discussion.
  • Very often, at the end of the discussion some people will ask for the name of the software used. Choosing software that is easy to use, free and that works on all platforms allows participants to lengthen their experience of thinking.

Important notes:

  • nowadays it is possible to build mind maps collaboratively using on-line mind map tools or using freemind, which also offers this function (it takes work to get it set-up)

references: section on implementation and comprehension