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Table of Contents

What is this module for

The objective and learning aim is to understand and to facilitate in teams

  • MAP (formerly known as: 'Making Action Plans'), a six step process to a 'treasure description' or an 'appreciative inquiry' of persons and their systems and microcosms. That means to gain knowledge about all aspects combined with a MAP process and
  • PATH (formerly known as: '‘Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope'), an eight step process to a drawn picture of the 'path' to the most attractive future that these persons are longing for and the steps towards it. So, it is important to get familiar with all parts of the PATH process.

Both process-tools 'can be applied to individuals, families, groups and organizations. Neither is specific to disability though both are widely used by people with disabilities, their families & human service organizations' (O’BRIEN, PEARPOINT & KAHN 2010, 16). This leads to various arrangements and constellations – for example if a family with a nonverbal child looks for best solutions – but always in one sense: The reason for doing MAP and PATH is to get ideas and first answers to the real 'Great Questions' (O’BRIEN 1999) that revolutionise the microcosms towards inclusive communities.

What is it about

So, in its content, it deals with the tools MAP and PATH in all aspects including reflection of their 'history' (pioneers, 'the ideas behind' them and the 'evolution' of these processes; see O’BRIEN & O’BRIEN 2000) and their potential and synergetic effects, especially when they are experienced in combination. Also it reflects on questions concerning the facilitation of the processes and how to balance the possible dynamics or how to involve persons who express themselves nonverbal and how to enable a maximum of participation for them.

MAP has been developed by Jack PEARPOINT and Marsha FOREST in the mid 1980’s (see O’BRIEN & FOREST 1989). PATH followed slightly later (see PEARPOINT, O’BRIEN & FOREST 2001). Both these methods use a graphic process in a meeting where the main person has invited people that they have chosen. It is important that the person and their support circle are well supported and prepared for the meeting.

MAP is comprised of formerly eight and today six steps (see O’BRIEN & LOVETT 2000) drawing a positive picture of a person through a group of invited people (O’BRIEN, PEARPOINT & KAHN 2010, 93):

  1. Hear the story
  2. Honour the Dream
  3. Recognise the Nightmare
  4. Name Gifts
  5. Say What It Takes to receive the Gifts
  6. Agree on Action

So, this MAP group process enables 'clarifying gifts, identifying meaningful contributions, specifying the necessary conditions for contribution, and making agreements that will develop opportunities for contributions' (O’BRIEN, PEARPOINT & KAHN 2010, 16).

PATH also uses a graphic process where the people planning with the person support them to their share dreams for the future then to set positive and possible targets to move towards that dream. PATH is comprised by eight steps (O’BRIEN, PEARPOINT & KAHN 2010, 63):

  1. Locate the North Star
  2. Generate a Vision of a positive possible future
  3. Describe the Now
  4. Invite Enrollment
  5. Decide to Get Stronger
  6. Identify Bold Steps
  7. Organise the month’s work
  8. Agree to Next Steps

So, the PATH group process enables 'discovering a way to move toward a positive and possible goal, which is rooted in life purpose, by enrolling others, building strength, and finding a workable strategy' (O’BRIEN, PEARPOINT & KAHN 2010, 16).

It is meaningful to realise good examples of how to find or create a circle of support and how to bring in aspects of the history and context of the MAP and the PATH processes into such meetings. To work on a real understanding of the systemic approach of the MAP and the PATH process in supporting circles is crucial for the quality of the process – it is not only about the main person but about common thinking of all involved people. So, it is essential to practice all segments of MAP and PATH in different roles and to get in touch especially with the challenges of the role of the group facilitator and the tasks of the role of the graphic facilitator. It always needs a team for this complex way of facilitation – a big challenge: 'PATH is a performing art, like music or drama or dance or juggling. It is a public act, created by disciplined collaboration. As such, it can only be understood and skilfully performed by people who devote themselves to regular practice and training over time' (O’BRIEN & PEARPOINT 2002, 58). Especially, because meetings that follow the MAP and the PATH steps can lead into real deep emotions facilitators should 'never dive alone!' (PEARPOINT & FOREST 1995). Furthermore it is necessary to be aware of the differences between 'future planning', 'future conferences' and a 'future celebration’'(all of them are person defined plans) versus a 'treatment-plan’' or an 'Individual Service Plan' (or other types of service defined plans; see O’BRIEN & LOVETT 2000; O’BRIEN, PEARPOINT & KAHN 2010, 16).

How can the message be delivered

As this module explores the vibrant history and the background to the tools of MAP and PATH as citizenship and person-centred work it focuses on possibilities to experience the power of these tools directly. This leads to imagine how circles of support can be invited to think and work together to give birth to alternative ideas (see PEARPOINT 1990). So the methods that support to deal with MAP and PATH may be story-telling, listening to successful experiences of families with a non-verbal child, making exercises in small groups, watching video sequences, practicing think-tanks, to feel the power of thinking in possibilities versus in negativities and to experience the necessity of having ‘enough time’ and the presence of all members of the support circle during the whole process.

This procedure is full of learning 'to do it for others by learning to do it for oneself’ in lots of Think – Pair – Share steps (from cooperative group learning) in explorations of small groups and orchestrating the whole group to work together as a ‘creative field’ leaning on 'positive interdependence'. Additional it is widening the perspectives getting to know other tools and adding and combining new tools to adapt the MAP and PATH sessions to the person and their invited supporters. For example, small development agencies can be founded for getting ideas for the best of all possible futures, or two persons – at least one of them able to write and read – write their dreams for the main person on small butterflies which afterwards are collected. Being a facilitator, as Marsha FOREST once said, 'you have to dance with the group!'

It is essential: The best way of learning is to do it – the facilitation of a planning process in different roles. This includes one term of doing it step by step with the whole group, while every person focuses during every step on their own situation, afterwards, in small groups one term the whole MAP-process, one term with the whole PATH process and finally one term of combining both processes. It is of high relevance to have a good peer support for practicing these exercises and a following open a fair reflection of the planning processes. It is a suggestion to practice the MAP and PATH facilitation outside of the course for reaching a good quality.

To cluster the ideas ‘of the whole elephant’ – all parts of the support circle – is nothing really new. It is rather the reconnection to a very archaic thing if people build a circle and sit, think and talk together. For a good atmosphere during a meeting for MAP and PATH it may also be good to drink, eat and even to sing together. So, all this also happens in this module to create the idea of how it feels to be working with a support circle. This powerful atmosphere of common trust is so important to be built and felt, because “it is not ethical to plan with a person if the plans don’t confront the person’s exclusion and aim to create a more just, diverse, and inclusive community” (O’BRIEN & PEARPOINT 2002, 4).

'Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing it ever has.' (Margaret Mead)

If you want to know more

See the detailed text: in the 'MAP and PATH' section 

Further references

O’BRIEN, John (1999): Great Questions and the Art of Portraiture. Online:
O'BRIEN, John & FOREST, Marsha (1989): Action for Inclusion. Toronto: Inclusion Press
O'BRIEN, John & LOVETT, Herbert (22000): Finding a Way toward everyday Lives. The Contribution of Person-centered Planning. In: O'BRIEN, John & O'BRIEN, Connie Lyle (Eds.): A little book about Person Centered Planning. Toronto: Inclusion Press, 113-132
O`BRIEN, John & O`BRIEN, Conny Lyle (2000): The Origins of person-centred planning. A community of practice perspective. Online: 
O'BRIEN, John & PEARPOINT, Jack (2002): Person-Centered Planning with MAPS and PATH. A Workbook for Facilitators. Toronto: Inclusion Press
O’BRIEN, John, PEARPOINT, Jack & KAHN, Linda (2010): The PATH & MAPS Handbook. Person-Centered Ways to build Communnity. Toronto:  Inclusion Press
PEARPOINT, Jack (1990): From Behind the Piano. The Building of Judith Snow's Unique Circle of Friends. Toronto: Inclusion Press
PEARPOINT, Jack (2002): Hints for Graphic Facilitators. Toronto: Inclusion Press
PEARPOINT, Jack & FOREST, Marsha (1995): Scuba Rules. Poster. Quoted in: O’BRIEN, John & PEARPOINT, Jack (2002): Person-Centered Planning with MAPS and PATH. A Workbook for Facilitators. Toronto: Inclusion Press, 14
PEARPOINT, Jack, O‘BRIEN, John & FOREST, Marsha (42001): PATH: Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope. A Workbook for Planning Possible Positive Futures. Toronto: Inclusion Press


Inclusion Press – Books and Material (USA)

Books and Material on MAP and PATH in Europe

Helen Sanderson Associates – Information and examples of MAP and PATH