Social System Mapping Principles

Social System Mapping Principles

The original network visualization tools (as well as, perhaps, the underlying scientific research goals they were designed to serve) imposed constraints on a Social Network Analysis project that no longer apply when using sumApp and Kumu together. These new tools offer more flexibility in terms of WHAT we map (the content), in terms of HOW we map it (the process), and in terms of SO WHAT can we learn from them (the use of the maps). 

In other words, even mundane changes in technology often give rise to unintended consequences - this is an example. And those unintended consequences can be generative, destructive, desirable, undesirable, all of the above together, or none of the above.

In this instance, I've noticed that by removing those few technical constraints, sumApp increased the potential use of the maps we generate. And the classic idea of Social Network Analysis no longer fits, which is why we now call these maps Social System Maps instead of SNA's.

Yet - I find that people with SNA experience still approach a sumApp >> Kumu project as if the old constraints still apply, not always taking advantage of the flexibility sumApp offers, or imposing 'should's' that are no longer necessary or helpful.

So to help re-envision how to approach these maps, I'm sharing the principles that guide my own thinking and coaching of others when supporting a Social System Mapping project.

The 'Show Don't Persuade' Principle

It used to be that you had to push a network to participate in an SNA project before they had any understanding of the outcome. That makes it harder than it has to be. Just make a quick prototype map and once you have something to show folks, it's much easier from there. Read more about this principle.
This is related to the Show Don't Persuade principle, and it's about not stressing everyone out (especially yourself) too much about either the process or the content. The field of Social System Mapping is emerging fast, and all kinds of potential good practices are being experimented with and suggested to others - which is wonderful!

But - this principle suggests holding all those 'best practice' thoughts lightly. Prioritize what you network clients & ambassadors are able to imagine right now and don't over-demand upon their (and your own capacity). Don't create too many 'shoulds' for them or for you. Trust their potential for emergence and work with them to learn as they go.

If your follow-up sensemaking reflection process is good - it will all work out in the end. Read more about this principle.

A mapping project's data-gathering focuses on data that has the potential to make a difference. And understanding WHAT data will make a difference will emerge over time, through frequent collective questioning. Read more about this principle.

The 'Center the Data on Human Beings - and Their Own Self-Reporting' Principle

We get as much data as possible from the people in the network themselves. And the kinds of data we gather are defined - as much as possible - BY the network members.

The 'Connect the Relationship Patterns to the Systemic Forces That Impact them' Principle

Social Network Analysis reveals the patterns in relationships among people. But simply leveraging existing patterns can easily deepen the status quo. We want to see those patterns relative to the forces of power, privilege, differences in strategies and goals and so on. Human relationships don't exist in isolation from larger systemic forces, why limit our picture of them?

The 'Intentionally Personalize the Systemic Forces' Principle

This is unlike with a classic system map where if human beings exist at all, they’re pretty much just collective abstractions. We want to see who is connected to or impacted by those systemic forces and how they’re connected or impacted.

The 'Exchanges Across Differences' Principle

Amplifying echo chambers is NOT the purpose. Learning to understand from different perspectives, learning to connect and co-create across gaps - is. In my personal value system, if a map doesn't at least have the POTENTIAL to help people see differently, and learn to generate something new with people different themselves, I don't know why I bothered to make the damn thing. And if it has the potential, but it's not being acted upon - then I'm trying hard to figure out how to move the group towards it.

But then again, the mapping process itself is a move in that direction. I figure that if you can cobble together a decent map, involving people wearing the three different thinking hats, and the team hasn't fallen apart yet, you're on the right track. You just need to find ways to bring that capacity to the larger whole. . . (hahahaha 'just'. . . .)

The 'Commit to a Process, Not a Product' principle
A social system map is a learning journey for everyone involved. The map supports and reflects that process. We commit to the journey.

Principles I'm realizing are underneath those principles above (i.e. these are probably the core principles):
  • Supporting the wisdom and agency of all beings
  • Supporting insight for collective wise action
  • Transparency that empowers those most impacted by a system
  • Increasing the velocity of generative exchanges
  • Visualizing the invisible
  • Surfacing the forces underlying the status quo
  • Diversity (in all the dimensions relevant to a given context)
  • Seeing from multiple perspectives
  • Generating the conditions for self-organizing
  • Porous and appropriate boundedness
  • Surfacing tensions to access transformational energies
  • Pattern seeing
  • Sense-Making
  • Emergence
  • Adaptive action
  • Iteration
So - maybe these aren't all directly-relatable to mapping. But they are OUR underlying principles, and we're constantly trying to learn how to apply them to our work.

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