Map the System
Systems mapping is a powerful tool for understanding and visualizing a system’s complex interrelationships and dynamics. The “system” can be anything from an organization to a social issue, a market, and everything in between. By visually representing the components of the system and their interactions, systems mapping provides a holistic view of the entire system. This holistic perspective enables us to identify patterns, leverage points, and potential impacts of changes within the system. Additionally, systems mapping requires extensive dialogue, which creates a shared understanding of the challenge. As such, it offers valuable insights for decision-making, strategy development, and innovation. Systems mapping can be a game-changer for anyone navigating complex environments or challenges, turning complexity from a hurdle into a resource.
As a best practice, collaborate and co-create with the network to map the system. However, a core team will need to decide the level of resources dedicated to systems mapping and how extensively involved the whole network will be in the process. Here are a few practical steps for thinking about systems mapping:
Decisions that will set your direction
People you will need to find your way
At a minimum, the core team should have a solid grasp of systems thinking principles and some experience using more straightforward tools. Depending on the tools’ complexity, you may need to bring on short-term expertise or assistance to support the mapping exercise.
You’ll need to guide the group through the mapping process, which can be complex and may involve dealing with disagreements or confusion. You must explain complex concepts in simple terms and help participants collaborate effectively. Understanding and valuing diverse perspectives is crucial in systems mapping. You must create an inclusive environment where all participants feel heard and respected.
Depending on the methods used, you might need skills in data analysis to help design, collect, analyze, and interpret information about the system. You may need skilled qualitative interviewers to do key informant interviews beforehand.
Review your plan for these critical elements
See the warning signs first
These resources can help you on your journey
Use and adapt the Example Key Informant Interview to collect information for a systems mapping exercise
Use and adapt the Template to Gather Insights on the Innovation Ecosystem to organize insights gathered from the key informant interviews
See the examples for sample decks using different systems mapping tools. Adapt the deck to create your own workshop, or choose a different systems mapping tool! See The GKI Systems Mapping Primer for additional context and ideas.
Check the example of the Causal Loop Diagram for Systems Innovation for the Bangladesh context for the program Global Knowledge Initiative hosted and see this narrative to guide you through the loops in the diagram.
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