Kernel Factsheet — Relational Kernel

Graphic/Node Maps


  • Education
  • Workplace
  • Community
  • Family

Developmental Phases

  • Early Childhood
  • Childhood
  • Early Adolescence
  • Adolescence
  • Emerging Adulthood



How To Do It

Goal-Node Maps (GNMs) are the result of brief motivational interviewing to create visual or graphic organizers of steps needed to enhance cognitions and actions taken by children, adolescents, or adults pursuing something with high authentic value to them.[1][2] They are also called knowledge maps.[3] An interviewer fills out the GNM using a semi-structured process. The interviewer asks the person about valued short- or long-term goals (appropriate to the age and/or cognitive development of the respondent). Then, the interviewer probes why a goal is important to the youth in order to enrich the salience and importance of the goal. Next, the interviewer helps the person expand who or what might help in moving toward that valued goal. Lastly, the interviewer helps the respondent determine the next steps for action, and follows with a discussion of barriers that might intrude and ways to overcome them. Respondents carry the map with them, share it with others, and chart or graph general progress.

How It Works

Humans, beginning in primary grades and through adulthood, have authentic aspirations to accomplish or overcome something. Over decades, it has become evident that motivational interviewing processes (which may occur naturally or intentionally) between the person with aspirations and wiser people in the family or in the community can facilitate moving toward those aspirations through the use of concrete steps. Additionally, this often involves recognizing potential detours. Words alone cannot suffice to guide the aspirant through all those steps or directions—any more than verbal directions from a neighbor or gas station attendant can help you navigate across a community. Maps help greatly in navigation, and goal-node maps provide that function for behavioral goals.

Goal or node maps work first by eliciting authentic, as opposed to imposed, goals. This is important, because in humans it generates anticipatory dopamine in the brain, which motivates approaching the valued goal. An imposed goal (e.g., “you must graduate” or “get sober”) is more likely to engage the avoidance circuits of the brain, which do not sustain effort except in immediate danger. Imposed goals often engage experiential avoidance of the goal as a way of coping. Authentic, valued goals motivate sustained effort—even if people experience physical and/or psychological distress along the way. A wise interviewer elicits the true emotionally laden reasons why the aspirant wants to attain the valued goal, not just because somebody says so. Thus, an aspirant for graduation or sobriety might want to attain the goal because he or she might be the first in the family to graduate or wants to reunite with family and loved ones.

Often aspirants will have only a limited view of the resources available to help them. The interviewer prompts choices among new or unrecognized resources, which are then added to the map. Think of these as “gas stations” or food sources along the journey.

Aspirants also tend to describe huge steps, which if not whittle down to manageable steps will cultivate failure. Interviewers offer choices of successive, smaller steps, which the aspirants can reach immediately, which they can achieve through coaching, and which can benefit from reinforcement. Reaching these steps further reinforces self-efficacy and the lighting up of the reinforcement centers of the brain.

Aspirants often believe there are no barriers or pain to overcome, or that there are no resources to help deal with barriers. The GNMs mark these clearly and provide reinforcement for coping. Graphing or charting progress using a cumulative record of steps achieved works just like GPS: showing progress reached toward the destination.


Using Goal-Node Maps to Get Things Going in Community Settings

Few people can fill out a GNM on their own; once people learn how, they can coach others in completing them. Ordering people to use them is not consistent with the process or the very nature of how such maps work. The best way for people to understand them is for potential interviewers to be interviewed about their valued goals using GNMs.

For Goal-Node Maps to be effective, the person leading an activity must project 1) genuine interest in the aspirant—and not resort to coercion or superficial mechanics, 2) help the aspirants probe deeper into why they authentically value their goals, 3) expand options and choices for supports, 4) help the aspirant see what barriers might occur and provide resources to cope with them, and 5) and check and praise or reinforce progress. The interviewer helps the aspirant choose between short-term or longer term goals, whichever is developmentally appropriate at that point.

Measuring Change

The use of a cumulative record, graphed by the aspirant and/or others, of the steps achieved toward the valued goals is critical to success, and helps both the interviewer and aspirants. [4-16]

Performance and Impact

Interviewers may keep track of the total numbers of valued goals achieved by the aspirants they coach. These are typically the aspirants’ big or major goals, not their steps.

Extended Recipe

Here are the basic steps for this evidence-based kernel:

  • Acquire the tools and forms to do this: videos of the process are helpful.

  • Experience doing the process for yourself as a potential interviewer and graph your own progress. Do two versions of your own experience:

    • Something personal, unrelated to the work setting

    • For the setting or persons you want to do this process. That is, an authentic Goal-Node Map for why you want to create Goal-Node Maps with others.

  • Practice with those who will be easier for you to teach and who can teach you.

  • Use the strategy with people who want to reach real goals, and monitor their progress so that you learn pitfalls.

  • Ask others for feedback on your process, since gestures, expressions, posture, etc. really make a difference.

Performance and Impact

Increases sobriety and goal completion; increases treatment compliance.