Integrative qualitative system mapping (IQSM) enables the systematic and transparent integration of diverse qualitative data. It is particularly useful as a tool supporting mixed methods research addressing nexus issues in sustainable development.  

integrative qualitative system mapping diagram © Susanne Hanger-Kopp

Integrative Qualitative System Mapping diagram

The main aim of an IQSM is to systematically collect, and visually integrate any qualitative data collected in a research process from the start. The main building blocks of IQSM are identical to those of Causal Loop Diagrams: elements, connections, potentially feedback loops. A key advantage of IQSM are flexible labels. They help addressing aggregation questions that cannot be immediately resolved (or actors and concepts that need to be included). Inspired by Formative Scenario Analysis (Scholz and Tiedje 2002), and the lack of systematization of the process for identifying impact variables, we believe that IQSM could be a valuable step ahead of designing system graphs, or causal loop diagrams. 

Building an IQSM is a complicated process in that it does not have a clear end or beginning, its component steps happen iteratively, and the tools in use have multiple purposes and cannot seen fully distinct from each other. This is why we visualize the process as a Venn diagram. Indeed, the overlapping areas can be considered as integrated aspects of the various steps and at the same time may help specify a focus and purpose at various stages of the process. Process visualization will thus always fall short of appreciating all the features. Nevertheless, it is important to unravel the various aspects of an IQSM. 

While IQSM can be considered a research outcome by itself, e.g. as a knowledge repository, it is mainly a problem structuring and communication tool. As such, IQSM goes well beyond a Rich Picture, and is still more elaborate than concept maps, in many ways it relates to cognitive mapping, but uses the language of systems thinking and CLDs, albeit not aiming to become fully fledged causal loop or system dynamics diagrams. 

Integrative Qualitative System Mapping

This tool was developed by researchers in the Equity and Justice (EQU) research group within the ACRP projects WaterStress and pathways, also drawing on smaller applications in other projects and workshops and work with Leonard Lemke during the Young Scientist Summer Program (YSSP) 2022.