Mentoring Entrepreneurial Networks: mapping conceptions of participants in technological-based business incubators in Brazil

Techniques for the construction of cognitive mapping

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Techniques for the construction of cognitive mapping

The cognitive dimension was captured by means of semi-structured interviews. In these interviews, the entrepreneurs were asked to freely evoke their ideas with relation to their successful careers and to the role of the network in their career development.

The verbal material produced by the incubated subjects resulted from a process known as “schematization” (Bastos, 2002). To determine the central and peripheral elements of these two concepts, both quantitative and qualitative approaches were utilized.

The technique applied consisted in requesting that each entrepreneur freely talk on whatever came to his mind, initially in relation to his successful entrepreneurial career, and then with relation to the role of the network in the development of his career. While the entrepreneurs talked, the researcher transcribed short phrases to describe each idea formulated up to the limit of twelve enunciations. When the ideas on each concept were finished, the enunciations that had been registered were presented to the entrepreneurs so that they could rank them in level of importance. The ranking done by each one, from a list of their own evocations, permitted the identification of the relevant constructs involved. (Sá, 1998; Vergara, 2005).

From the enunciations suggested by the interviews, a content analysis was performed to identify the units of analysis that were repeated by the study subjects. The product obtained from the free enunciations was analyzed by means of a four quadrant technique (Fischer et al., 2003; Vergara, 2005). This technique, combining frequency and the average order of evocation, permits the distribution of terms produced according to the importance attributed by the research subjects. Along with this, it shows to be an instrument that facilitates the structural and organizational analysis of shared significance among the entrepreneurs. Therefore, the force of each enunciation was defined by the frequency and the median order of occurrence. (Ex: the enunciation “financial return” occurred 17 times with a average order of 3,5; approximately in 4th place). The SPSS software was used to calculate frequency and average order of occurrence of the evocations. The procedures for the construction of cognitive maps follow.

After content analysis, the data were grouped into larger categories, in the form of cognitive maps. Regardless of the graphic help provided by this software in the organization of data, the choice of categories is subjective. This means that the investigator must seek to associate the enunciations to context and end up using theoretical filters when trying to interpret the “realities” expressed by the entrepreneurs, grouping them into distinct categories. The shared cognitive maps provided by the entrepreneurs, for each of the two concepts studied are shown in the following paragraphs.


The shared significance of the entrepreneurs regarding their successful careers and with relation to the role played by the network in career development was analyzed from the salient content of their enunciations. The data treated by the four quadrant technique resulted in the identification of the central elements of the incubated entrepreneurs interviewed. (Fischer et al., 2003; Vergara, 2005). In this technique, the first quadrant expresses the truly significant terms and constitutes the central nucleus of the shared significance of the incubated entrepreneurs. The results found from the fifty-three entrepreneurs interviewed are provided in the following.

    1. Shared significance on successful careers

The first quadrant provides the enunciations of central level. These enunciations obtained the largest frequency and average order of evocation (AOE) closest to one (1st place) in the speech of the entrepreneurs. These evocations also form a group of the more stable enunciations - Chart 1. The other three quadrants serve to show the frequency and the average orders of the intermediate and peripheral evocations. These evocations are presented as cognitive maps, however, no distinction is given as to the positions occupied (intermediate or peripheral). It should be remembered that the evocations on Chart 1 (strongest force) are also presented in the following cognitive maps with distinction given by the use of boldface – Figures 2, 3 and 4. These maps reveal the categories used by the entrepreneurs in shared significance.

Chart 1. Evocations concerning the success career with AOE < 3,9 and Frequency > 3,1

The idea or vision that the entrepreneurs have with regards to their successful career was evaluated positively and is associated primarily to the success of their business and personal success. The existence of some dilemmas that the entrepreneurs had to face was also salient in the enunciations, such as the fact of having to assume responsibilities. The cognitive map on successful careers characterizes the incubated entrepreneurs, furnishing a general panorama of the statement contents, providing important information on the cognitive dimension of the support received through the relational network.

The cognitive map that provides a graphics form of the shared significance of the incubated entrepreneurs with regards to a successful entrepreneurial career follows. Due to the limit of space, the map is divided into three parts: initially, Figure 2 presents the basic category of the statement contents registered.

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