Use of ecomaps in qualitative health research

Veena Manja, Ananya Nrusimha, Harriet L. MacMillan, Lisa Schwartz, Susan M. Jack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Qualitative health research plays a central role in exploring individuals' experiences and perceptions of wellness, illness, and healthcare services. Visual tools are increasingly used for data elicitation. An ecomap is a visual tool that applies ecosystems theory to human communities and relationships to provide an illustration of the quality of relationships. We describe the use of ecomaps in qualitative health research. Searches across eight databases identified 407 citations. We screened them in duplicate to identify 129 publications that underwent full text review and included 73 in the final synthesis. We classified and summarized data based on iterative comparisons across sources. Benefits of using ecomaps include improving rapport and engagement with study participants, facilitating iterative question development, and highlighting the social contexts of relationships. When used in conjunction with interviews, they promote data credibility through triangulation. Investigators have used ecomaps as a tool to facilitate primary and secondary analysis of data. Researchers have adapted the ecomap to meet their health research needs. Challenges to their use include additional time and training needed to complete, and potential privacy and confidentiality concerns. Ecomaps can be useful in qualitative health research to enhance data elicitation, analysis, presentation, and to augment study rigor.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)412-442
Number of pages31
JournalQualitative Report
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Ecomap
  • Graphic elicitation
  • Integrative review
  • Qualitative health research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Education


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