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Mapping Process

Learn more about the system of mapping.
a man holding a blank sheet to start to draw something
© Except Academy

First, we need to understand: “What makes for a good system map?

A good system map does the following:

  • Reveals important connections or disconnections
  • Is not so complex that it becomes unreadable
  • Does not overly simplify reality to disqualify itself
  • Can be easily augmented and adjusted
  • Is appealing to the eye to make it easy to read
  • Is part of a larger organizing system that allows multiple maps to form a complete overview together.

Once you have set to yourself clarity of what makes a good system map, start with a sketch.

System mapping typically starts with sketches on paper. In later iterations, you’ll find the form and layout that works best for your purpose. In some cases, they can be elaborated and redesigned in several steps, often involving new research in between.

The purpose of mapping is never to be complete because complex systems have too many components to be mapped. We manage this by simplifying maps on a higher level of abstraction and making them rougher and less detailed. Make sure you cover all dimensions, scales, and aspects, not for the sake of completeness but the sake of range and depth.

If we want to make a step-by-step process, we can follow this order:

Step 1. Determine the subject and goal

We first need to determine the objective of our mapping. Are we making maps to figure out a strategy to improve the system, or are we looking for a specific relationship or quality or just using it to create general awareness? These aspects will factor in when setting up the framework and making the content. Then, we need to know what we’ll be mapping.

Step 2: Determine what maps to make

For the content, use ELSI8 as a starting point. Fill the categories with areas of interest for each of the 8 ELSI categories, gather data, map these in individual maps, see if this works, and expand from there.

You’ll likely make at least 3 maps or more. For these to correlate to one another, you need to set up a framework for your maps so they speak the same language. You’ll do this in several iterations, so start somewhere at first. One of the best ways to do this is to make a map of maps quickly. Make a quick grid with two vertical and two horizontal lines, fill in the 9 areas with what subject and map type you think you can make for your challenge.

Step 3: Sketch the maps and collect data

When you made your map of maps, it’s time to get going and sketch the actual maps. In the first iteration, sees if you can sketch what you want a map to look like. Don’t dive too deeply into one map; be sure to sketch them all roughly first. As you progress during the mapping, you may find certain map types don’t work. That’s fine, great even.

Step 4: Select and refine

After you’ve made a series of map drawings, choose the ones you find particularly interesting. Next, investigate the missing information and redraw the maps.

What next?

Once you’re done mapping the current state, you’ll be mapping the desired state later on in the solution cycle.

Using the same framework, map the systems as you would like the system to be in the ideal state to be resilient, harmonious, and autonomous to the degrees necessary. You can use these future projections as a point for discussion or as a way to find pathways to improved performance of the system.

© Except Academy
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