Stages of the process

Identify the intervention

The first step in organizing a REM session is deciding the program or intervention that will be the focus of the group session. Often, negotiation with program staff and key stakeholders is needed to correctly identify the focus of the session. For example, University of Minnesota Extension was asked to conduct a REM evaluation of the work of Extension Master Gardeners in two neighborhoods in St. Paul. As a result of conversations with key community partners, the focus of the session was broadened from an exclusive focus on the work of the Master Gardeners to a larger emphasis on all community gardening efforts in the neighborhoods. This way, the efforts of the Master Gardeners would still be identified, but in the context of other efforts that preceded the work of the Master Gardeners.

Schedule the event and invite participants

It is important to schedule the two-hour REM event at a time that is convenient for participants, often at the end of the work day with a light meal provided. The REM process includes both direct program participants and non-participant stakeholders. The non-participant group has a more distant view of the program or intervention and is able to offer a complementary perspective that builds on the view of direct program participants. Ultimately, a group of 12 to 20 participants is ideal, with half coming from the participant group and half coming from the non-participant group. It is important to have direct phone or personal contact to recruit participants, because REM is an unusual process that people are not familiar with.

Hold group mapping session

At the beginning of the REM event, participants are paired up in a Appreciate Inquiry exercise and instructed to interview each other about specific ways the program affected their lives or particular achievements or successes they have experienced as a result of the program (Cooperrider & Whitney, 2007).
Group members then report responses from their interviews, and initial effects are typed into a mind map and projected onto a large screen. Initially these reported effects are disconnected from each other, but it is crucial to include insights from all members of the group.
After the interview results are posted, the REM facilitators begin "theming," or categorizing the reported data into general themes. Everyone in the room is invited to generate these themes, and attach the reported effect to each core theme.
The next phase is the "rippling" phase, during which the facilitators ask questions to brainstorm and hierarchically map the effects or "ripples" of the intervention. This process engages the entire group and provides opportunities for participants to make connections among program effects. Toward the end of the process, the facilitators ask about negative, or less positive effects of the program or intervention. This often triggers an important discussion of challenges, some of which have already been addressed and some that remain an issue for future work.

Conduct follow-up interviews

After the session, the facilitators may need to reorganize the mind map and collect additional detail by interviewing some of the key participants from the session as well as other participants who are crucial sources of information but were unable to attend the group session. It is important to ensure that key stakeholders are included in the data collection process.

Clean, code, analyze

Once all the data are collected, the facilitators may need to reorganize the mind map, edit the language for consistency, and possibly add color or other graphics such as photographs. Data produced in the mapping process can be downloaded into a spreadsheet program and coded in a variety of ways. For example, the "ripples" can be coded as short-term knowledge, skill, or attitude changes; medium-term behavior changes; and long-term changes in conditions. Furthermore, these changes in conditions can be coded using the Community Capitals Framework (Emery & Flora, 2006; Rasmussen, Armstrong, & Chazdon, 2011).