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Outcome Mapping Practitioner Guide

Introducing Outcome Mapping by a role play (in one hour)

A role play that illustrates the most important aspects of the outcome mapping process


Author: Simon Batchelor

Published: Sunday 7 September 2014


The role play game gives people a chance to see how each element of Outcome Mapping works, and walk them through the OM process. It is meant to be used in the context of a wider discussion and introduction of Outcome Mapping. It was first devised for the I-K-Mediary Workshop at Dhaka, Bangladesh, in January 2011 and docmumented by Simon Batchelor in the IDS Practice Paper In Brief No. 16. The Dhaka conference dealt with the role of Knowledge Intermediaries as contributors to the flow of information from researchers into the policy environment (the Research Policy Praxis), the creative part of the role play game was thought to be a metaphor of the flow of information to policymakers for policy use. However, the role play game element of the whole could be revised to be a metaphor for work in whatever sector the participants work in. 

Resources and setup

The game as described below was played with 38 people. If a different number of people are present the balance between those involved in the distribution of resources and those using the resources will need to be adapted. The resources required were: one pack of sticky notes of four different colours and at least 38 pieces of white A4 paper. The distribution of resources represents ‘the project’. For 38 people we had two ‘project staff’, four ‘project volunteers’, and the rest became the audience or in our case, ‘policymakers’. We asked two participants to volunteer to play the role of project staff. We then asked for ‘project volunteers’.

Starting the game

The audience are told that the game will take 20 minutes, that it will be ‘slow starting up’ and a request is made for patience – ‘bear with us’. The audience represents policymaking decision-makers who will ‘use’ the resources.

Project staff

Two volunteers from the audience are asked to sit at a table. These people represent staff of the project. The key feature of these people is that they are under the control of the facilitator and represent a part of the ‘project’ that is under control. The staff are given the task of assembling packages of coloured paper for distribution to the whole group, but asked not to start yet. On the table is a pile of white A4 sheets of paper and a pack of (at least) four colours of sticky notes (enough for one for every member of the audience). The instructions given to the staff should be set down in large writing on A4 sheets of paper and placed on the table in front of them.

There are four instructions and these are best kept simple: 

• Put one of each colour of the sticky notes onto a white sheet of paper.

• Write on the paper ‘Use these papers to create a piece of art’.

• Give the paper to the volunteers standing around to give to the audience. 

Note, in illustrating this to the staff, the sticky note was folded by about one third before being stuck onto the white sheet. This is for two reasons: (a) it slows the creation process down – the idea is that since there are only two creators, and since they have to fold, it is a slow process. The people standing around (see below) will more likely get frustrated with the process and help it along; (b) the folding of t he paper is meaningless and is inserted into the game to give opportunity for someone to challenge, ‘Why are we doing this?’.

There is a fourth command which is written in a different colour, the instruction:

• ‘If those standing around offer to help you may accept’.

Project volunteers

Once the project staff are sat at the table and the instructions given, four volunteers from the audience are asked to stand around the table. They represent volunteers within the project, where we have quite a lot of influence but not control. It is not possible to ask them to sit at the table and create the packages for distribution as this would require them to have a salary – which the project doesn’t have. They are asked merely to pass the completed packs to other people in the room and are not given any other instruction.

The game

If the staff have not started creating the packages, then they are instructed to start. The facilitator watches and notes what happens during the game.

At the 10 minute mark, the facilitator quietly goes to two people in the audience. He engages with them in a brief comment on their artistic creation, and tells them that they do not have to stick to only the resources given, they are free to use any sheets of paper in the room, or the pens, whatever is to hand. He briefly encourages them to be creative, and notes they can also work collaboratively on a bigger piece of art. 

(We suggest the facilitator does not engage in long conversation about the art, is not directive about the art, and tries to avoid questions from other people in the room as they pass through it. If someone explicitly asks whether they can use other paper – the facilitator can say ‘Sorry, the rules of the game do not allow me to answer that – although “Jane” can’, and point to the person you just quietly told that other paper use was allowed.)

Continue to note what is happening. Stop after 20 minutes.

At the end of the game

Take a sample of the audience to share their creative art – try to ask the table with the two people the facilitator gave advice to last. Allow enough time for people to appreciate the art, but take a manageable sample – not everyone.

Once this is done, conduct the following survey, by asking participants to raise their hands:

• How many people only drew on the sticky notes?

• How many people reformed the sticky notes into a physical art piece?

• How many people only used the sticky notes?

• How many people used the white sheet of paper as a part of the art (as opposed to the white piece being the sheet that holds the sticky notes in place)?

• How many people used other sheets of paper?

• How many people worked with someone else?

• How many people got together and worked collaboratively in a group?

Further introduction and discussion on Outcome Mapping

You now have in place the data to further introduce and discuss the role of Outcome Mapping. The full paper provides an accompanying slide show to explain the predictive nature of Outcome Mapping in a mildly complex influencing game which need to be fine-tuned if the nature of the game is adapted for your context.

For the times we have run it, the impact and impression of the slide show was in its predictive element – people were wowed that it could describe the outworking of the game, even taking into account unexpected outcomes. It would not be acceptable to play the game, then write the Outcome Mapping slide show and present it half an hour or an hour later.


This nugget was applied in: First used during the I-K-Mediary workshop in Dhaka, Bangladesh (2011)

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