How to Start Mapping - Create a Pilot/Prototype Map

How to Start Mapping - Create a Pilot/Prototype Map

Social System Mapping means that:
  1. You're working with an iterative and emergent process
  2. You need to get a lot of people on-board with
  3. Most of those people know nothing of the process
  4. Nor are they aware of the purpose/value/intended outcome
All of this makes it hard to know where to start! Without something to show people, they have a hard time seeing the point. But without buy-in, you don't have anything to show people. 
You need to start where you can: Show - Don't Persuade and Meet Them Where They're At

And the truth is - every Social System Mapping situation is different. So it's hard to spell out an exact sequence that works for everyone.
But there are some phases that can be identified and that build on one another, which we share below.

In general we like to think of the process of a Social System Map as a re-iterating cycle that expands outward like a spiral:

The general steps in the cycle are:


Explore the possibilities with people and start to define what the map should include. Use other maps here to show examples of what's possible.

Here are a couple you might use, the Human Systems Dynamics map and the Transformation Systems Mapping and Analysis Working Group map. If you don't have others to discuss it with and you really want to figure this out on your own - just skip this step until you've iterated the following steps once.

Set up sumApp

Set up your sumApp pilot survey, member list (start out small), email templates, welcome texts, settings. Just take a stab at doing your best with the language, survey options etc. You're just trying to get a context-specific starting point, for others to build on.

And when we say 'start small' with the member list, sometimes that just means yourself and a couple of fake people with fake emails, just so you can have a member link to access the front end of the interface so you can see what it will look like.

Gather some data

Get some people (those in the member list you added in the step above) to test out the sumApp set-up, input data and give you feedback on the language used everywhere. Again start small, and start where there's energy - hand pick those few who are interested or who you have some influence with.

In the very first round, you may even want or need to create a dummy person or two and have them check off every survey option. This helps when you start making views in Kumu - and you can always delete them later.

Feed the data into Kumu and create some prototype views

This step is key to gaining interest in the process - now you have something to show people and you can begin the process of digging deeper to determine what more should be added to the map.

SenseMake & Envision

Share the prototype map with those in it &/or with others whose input would be helpful. Have some discussions about what's working/not working for folks so far and what more they'd like to see.


Based on the feedback you've gathered: tweak the sumApp survey, etc.; tweak the Kumu views; invite more people to be on the map; SenseMake some more.

Understand that it's an ongoing process with everyone learning together. Each iteration fine-tunes the map's content & views, adds more people to the map, and gradually ripples map-literacy out from the early-starters through the rest of the network.

Whether you get to including your entire network in 2 cycles or in many cycles will depend on the size of the network, how developed it is, and lots of other dynamics.

The point is not to get too attached to a perfect process, and not to get too far ahead of yourself in planning it out. We always say - start where you CAN, and build from there.

If you have one of those contexts where everything has to be planned out ahead of time to perfection, where learning-by-doing and mess-tolerance are not encouraged - all the more reason to jump in right away. There's no way you'll know everything you need to know up front, so just jump in and get started. Either start with a few trusted buddies, or just make up some dummy people so you can learn the tools - then come talk with us. That way you'll know what questions you need to ask when you engage with our community of practice, and you'll get a better sense of what's needed in your own context.

The quicker you dig in, experiment, and learn - the quicker you'll be able to develop the realistic & actionable plan that others may want from you.

So - go to your sumApp member list (under 'launch') right now and add some names (make up fake emails if you don't start with real people), then click on one of their links to see what your member interface looks like.

That will give you an idea of what else you need to change in sumApp. And once you've had others input some data, or you add some fake data for a handful of fake people yourself, you'll have something to work with in Kumu.

And once you have something to show people, it gets easier (and more real) from there.

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