University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center: Knowledge Sharing And Collaboration With MindMeister (Success Story)

New findings in cancer research can be life-changing. However, its challenges are many. It means bridging knowledge gaps, engaging colleagues, and creating effective project proposals. In this case study, Barbara Alvarez Martin shares how MindMeister helps drive effective organization at the University of North Carolina Lineberger’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. 

University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center: Knowledge Sharing And Collaboration With MindMeister (Success Story)

Knowledge sharing is in the DNA of academic research. However, even in large university systems, choosing a method for sharing information is often a personal preference for the researchers involved. Everyday administrative aspects in critical health-related fields – like brainstorming, fundraising or resource development – can have life-changing consequences for millions.

However, at the University of North Carolina’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, these topics present a challenge across the entire institution. New or junior faculty may not have the experience or bandwidth to properly build out their proposals, while “traditional” organizational methods sometimes bottleneck tenured faculty.

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Recognizing the Issue

I’m directly involved in the organizational capacity of individual researchers.

Barbara Alvarez Martin, DrPH, MPH and assistant director for Community Outreach and Engagement and Population Sciences at the cancer center, was one of the first to recognize this issue. In recent times, she has driven effective organization by introducing digital mind mapping to a handful of research faculty in her cancer center. As an expert in health communications, Barbara helps the faculty develop research proposals and create synergies between teams and departments. She describes her role in promoting more impactful research and collaboration:

“I’m directly involved in the organizational capacity of individual researchers across our faculty, who each have their own methods for research and planning.” 

Here are some tools, tips, and examples of how mind mapping can help you if you’re studying in college, or if you’re a teacher.

A Generational Divide

In MindMeister, we mapped out who did what in each research topic.

Academic research is directly tied to funding and resources, through research grants or departmental financing, and requires countless proposals and pitches. Barbara’s role as a guide and sounding board for faculty members at various levels of their careers means unifying the critical foundations that are necessary before projects can even begin. As both an advocate and personal user of MindMeister, Barbara was convinced that her favorite mind mapping tool could bridge the gaps between colleagues. She explains:

“MindMeister had already made my job easier. Part of our community outreach program is ‘professional matchmaking’. In MindMeister, we mapped out who did what in each research topic, first categorizing roles then adding the relevant names. It was a beautiful and very different way to capture important information in one place.”

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Sensing even greater potential for improvement with MindMeister, Barbara targeted a major sore spot for the researchers she was working with: visualizing and unlocking the potential of their own strategic vision. Many of the faculty members she worked with complained of self-imposed “blinders” and information silos, but by leveraging her own experiences with mind mapping, Barbara could implement new forms of digitalized communications between colleagues. 

“I recognized immediately that there was a discrepancy in how faculty members developed research proposals for the department. The younger ones were more adept at using digital tools to define and present their vision, but they lacked the organizational experience to really visualize a project from start to finish. For the more senior researchers, there was often a revisional bottleneck that prevented them from creating clear, concise arguments. The knowledge was in their heads, just locked in.”

Successful research teams collaborate in their projects. Read on more in this article.

Democratizing the Planning Process

Once we started using MindMeister, collaboration shot up considerably. 

In an academic setting, Barbara observed how MindMeister could help democratize strategic planning. In addition to helping faculty organize their projects, she found mind maps helpful in developing grant proposals, group brainstorming, and establishing a trajectory for the careers of junior faculty members. She explains the importance of the issue:

“In a hierarchical organization, equal access to planning and presentation resources is important. We know from an external Gallup employee engagement poll that only 30 percent of general employees nationally feel engaged at work. We’ve heard from some employees at our center that while we have decent engagement, they want it to be better. Once we started using MindMeister, collaboration shot up considerably. The tool helped us develop ideas into visually appealing content and helped visualize a roadmap aimed at getting the requisite funding.”

Most researchers had never used a mind map, let alone an online mind mapping tool, before Barbara introduced MindMeister to them. She believed that by facilitating a new way of thinking through a digital medium, she could achieve greater impact than by simply dictating a direction for staff to take. Setting up individualized mindmaps to begin the grant writing process brought structure to ideation and was crucial in the collective brainstorming experience. It helped the faculty to see their research’s bigger purpose, often collaboratively, which proved helpful in convincing other departments to supply resources for projects. 

Not convinced mind mapping is for you? Here are seven research-backed benefits of mind mapping instead.

Resisting the Pull

MindMeister helped her see both the big picture and the minutiae simultaneously.

Barbara noticed that in large, top-down organizations like in academic research, junior faculty could be pulled in a variety of directions, sometimes finding it difficult to uncover hidden potential within their work. The results were potentially stark: a lack of focus can mean the difference between a breakthrough finding or a bottleneck in new research. However, by utilizing the collaborative features of MindMeister, users could pinpoint the fundamental source of their interests and articulate funding arguments effectively. Barbara explains one compelling example of the tool’s impact:

“I was working with a junior faculty member who was in the middle of a ‘brain dump’. I suggested we work with a mind map instead and, in no time at all, she could see where her research’s strategic focus lay. She actually went in for an annual review with her department chair, armed with her mind map, which helped her explain her vision. MindMeister helped her see both the big picture and the minutiae simultaneously – it simply hadn’t been done that way before.”

Onto The Next Breakthrough

However, Barbara’s work is far from finished. She has recently introduced colleagues engaged in critical cancer research to MindMeister, which has helped to create more collaborative opportunities and streamline the planning process. By her own count, Barbara has noted that over 17 colleagues are now using mind maps continuously in their areas of focus. So what are her final thoughts on MindMeister?

“Converting a concept in your brain into an impactful, easily-digestible mind map is very liberating, especially for introverts or newer staff. Everyone involved in the process feels they can contribute as equals. Even the head of administration asked me how to start using mind maps. I think that’s the best proof that it can be effective for faculty at all levels.”

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