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A Global Mapping International Newsletter Summer 1999


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Best Practices: highlighting innovative and effective approaches to mission research

Cultural Insights photo

Cultural research "pictures" more effective ministry

Cultural Insights, Inc., the subject of our first feature on "Best Practices" in mission research, is a research-based ministry that doesn't compile numbers or words. Instead, CI uses pictures to better understand unreached and resistant peoples.

The CI process uses carefully crafted questions to uncover how people view themselves, their community, their circumstances and God. Participants "answer" by selecting pictures from a huge display of images collected from around the world. The visual symbolism in the selected images reveals both conscious and unconscious values.

The Japanese, for example, strongly associate "peace" with the amber color of whisky. So, when CI produced a full-color evangelistic book for Japan, amber was used prominently in the pages focusing on God's peace. Another CI study, which revealed that Russians view children as their only symbol of hope, led The CoMission to more strongly emphasize Christ's Incarnation in its Christian-education training program.

Visual research has many advantages for missions. Because every image contains many symbols, CI can identify meaningful themes with relatively small samples, making visual research quick to collect and relatively cost-effective. Also, research subjects need not be literate. Of course, doing research in tribal settings creates its own set of challenges. A CI group interview in India's jungle state of Orissa ended abruptly when a stampeding herd of water buffalo completely destroyed the research "facility."

The CI process has rigorous theoretical underpinnings (for example, thousands of images are used to achieve a virtually complete set of visual choices), yet people with no formal background in research can learn to administer a CI study with only a few days of training.

CI works with numerous ministries, including World Team, The Navigators, Campus Crusade for Christ and Mission America. Of CI's recent work in Northern Italy, Albert Ehmann, International President of World Team, writes, "By applying the insights gained, missionaries and church leaders can save years of frustration by using the right key to unlock disillusioned but seeking hearts."


Cultural Insights, Inc.'s founder and president, Michael C. Sack, has used image-based research to understand behavior and values for nearly 20 years. While working with a packaged-goods firm serving dozens of countries, Michael grew frustrated with language barriers and the inability (or unwillingness) of people to express themselves. Inspired by a therapy that uses visual images to help autistic children communicate, Michael developed an image-based research system to help people express what they can't (or won't) say verbally.

Michael's commercial research company, Image Engineering, Inc., helps firms like Unilever, Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart and Clorox to better understand consumer values and brand communication. But Michael is most enthusiastic about using research to understand spiritual values and Gospel communication. After all, therapists and commercial firms aren't the only ones who deal with people that are unable or unwilling to explain their beliefs and choices.

Cultural Insights, Inc. is based just outside of Louisville, Kentucky. For more information, contact Director of Research Jim McGee at Cultural Insights, Inc., 10510 Buckeye Trace, Goshen, KY 40026; phone (502) 228-3708. Or check out the CI website at www.culturalinsights.org.


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