Domainal mapping

This technique requires all main elements of an issue to be identified and these are called the domains. Then using a large piece of paper, a circle is drawn on the paper and each domain is allocated a segment of this circle. For each domain we then consider what is the current situation for that domain and what is the desired situation. When there is tension between these two positions work is then done on sifting possible ways forward.

The simplicity of this approach rather understates its power. Its power

  • lies in the process of drawing the ‘map’ which calls on the creative, right hand side of the brain, as well as the intellectual, left hand side of the brain;
  • lies in its ability to show the totality of a complex problem on one sheet of paper which enables easy identification of priority action areas;
  • behavioural linkages between the various domains can be seen which if dealt with will transform the whole situation, rather like tugging at any one point on a spiders web;
  • finally, working in pairs with the issue holder talking, the helper writing and the rest of the group observing focuses a lot of resources onto the problem.


Domainal mapping is a technique used to identify the pressures and influences on a complex situation involving people and human behaviour, and provides a means of managing these pressures appropriately.

Domainal mapping helps you to clarify the inter-relationship between influences. It enables you to break down the mass of data surrounding the situation into sections, or domains, which are sufficiently focused to be manageable. Once identification of the domains has been done, then work can begin on thinking about ways in which areas of difficulty may be managed and changed.

The domainal map consists of a series of rings, like a dart board, with the areas of focus at the centre – the bull’s eye. The area of focus could be you, a project, or any complex people/relationship situation. The `board’ is divided into a number of segments, or domains, one for each question or area of influence.

Area for diagnosis

Before identifying the domains, you must first choose what to place at he centre of the ring. You may choose to take your whole life, or, for example, you may be wishing to analyse an area of your life such as your effectiveness as a project manager, your relationship with your subcontractors etc. For the purpose of these notes we will use “Me as a project manager”.

Identification of the domains

Next, begin work on identifying the domains. It is helpful to think of influences and relationships of all kinds such as:

  • Key relationships you have with (your team members, boss, issue holder etc.) individuals or groups with whom you have contact, both within and outside the project
  • Inanimate things such as money, machinery, the environment
  • Your personal circumstances such as home and social life

The purpose of the domainal map is to show all the important influences on you in the role you wish to analyse. Eight domains are about the maximum that can be handled on one map.

You can also subdivide a domain

Describing the current situation (“as is”)

Having identified the domains, the next step is to describe the situation as it currently is for each domain. Put down facts, feelings and perceptions that you have about the current situation using key words or phrases to summarise your immediate thoughts. For example, you might experience ‘Person a’ as “very popular with colleagues and subcontractors, paper records incomplete and late, very hard for me to communicate with him/her, frustrated with him/her!”.

Even if you are satisfied with the feelings you have about a particular domain, it is recommended that the feelings are still described as they may be useful for subsequent analysis.

Your map will now look like this:

Projecting a “no change” situation

Taking each domain at a time, consider and describe what would be the likely outcome if in the future you changed nothing relating to that domain, but external influences continued on a predictable path. For example, with ‘Person a’ poor paper records could leave you vulnerable to claims from issue holder and subcontractors, and coupled with poor communication between the two of you, a serious misunderstanding could’ occur. Again, it is advisable to describe the feelings you would have if this occurred.

Describing the Ideal or Desired Future

Once you have completed the third concentric band work around the domains and describe for each domain the ideal or desired future. It is helpful to leave a space between 3 and 4. (see below) Describe not only the situation but also the feelings you would like to have. For example, with ‘Person a’ you may want to enjoy the rapport he/she clearly has with others, and see his/her paper work up to the required standard.

The fifth band is inserted between 3 and 4 and it is useful to use a different colour. This is where you will describe action in each domain; how are you going to get from 3 to 4 and what help do you need? In addition to this you may find it helpful to proceed to the following stages.

Evaluation of the domains

Go around the map and evaluate each domain as follows:

  • ++ = OK, i.e. where no action is needed. This is most likely to be where the “as is” and the “desired future” are similar or the same
  • + = OK but could do more
  • = Action needed or desired (whether possible or not)
  • _ = Action seriously needed or desired (whether possible or not)

For each domain against which there is a minus, you need to separate them into:

  • Those where action is not possible. This could be where you do not have the power, resources, authority or the right to initiate any changes
  • Those where action is possible. These can be further refined by oneself: – do I want to move towards the desired state?
    • how committed am I?
    • what will be the difficulties?
    • will I need to influence others to make it happen?

Finally, scan the map looking for patterns or themes that are repeated more than once. For example, if you note you are ‘frustrated’ with several people on your map, this may be saying more about you than them.

Why include


In any situation the feelings we have will affect or influence the behaviour we use and will have a consequential effect upon the feelings and behaviour of the other party.

It is too simple in most situations to attribute a problem to a clash of personalities. Instead we should look for the causes of such a clash:

are we working to the same objective?

have assumptions been made and not checked out? have we agreed/talked about how we will work together? is there a high level of trust between us?

Prioritising and p

lanning actions

It is likely that the domains that need attention will be those where there is a mismatch between the current situation, the no change projections and the ideal future. The need for improvements will vary across domains and you may need to clarify your priorities.

How to prioritise the areas in which you wish to bring about changes? This will depend very much upon you. Your criteria for making the choice could include:

  • what patterns or themes are there – identifying a pattern or theme and doing something positive about it will ensure positive change for most of the domains
  • the most important – which will have the greatest impact or payoff for yourself and others
  • the quickest payoff – which will show results soon
  • the most urgent – where the effects of not tackling it will be most disastrous
  • the easiest to tackle – where good results are most likely
  • the most difficult to tackle – if you tackle this one you can handle anything

It is useful to bear in mind that there are four general alternatives when faced with a situation that you wish to change, namely:

  1. Change the situation: Do something about it, be proactive, and confront people with whom you are having a difficult time.
  2. Change yourself: Examine and change your own behaviour and attitudes, take a different perspective, listen to others, acquire a new skill or knowledge.
  3. Leave the situation: Find a constructive and positive way of moving on, (constructive for you and ideally constructive for others involved). Try to minimise any destructive effects of your moving.
  4. Decide to live with the situation: Come to terms with it, grin and bear it. Give up moaning, groaning and blaming. Don’t allow it to give you negative feelings about yourself and others. You at least, will move on and ‘un-hook’ from it psychologically, if not physically.
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