The Three Mapping 'Hats'

The Three Mapping 'Hats'

In most instances, a good Social System Map requires a minimum of three different kinds of thinkers. We call these the 'thinking hats'. Of course there are more 'thinking hats' than just these three. And more thinking types are valuable to the mapping process, but in our experience, without someone having strengths in at least those three mental skill-sets, a project falls flat somewhere along the way. The potential it represents never gets accessed. 

Of course, we're all multi-dimensional, complex human beings, no-one wants to get put in a box, and some of us CAN and WANT to wear more than one hat in a project (as well as in life :-) )

Still - it's rare that one person is really strong in all three areas. And our dominant thinking habits can put us in a rut. This means that at it's best, Social System Mapping is inherently and inevitably a collaboration among very different thinking types

And even if you are that rare Unicorn who can be creative across the whole range of skills, it's useful to keep in mind which hat you're wearing at different times. Wearing them all at once often makes you do a mushy job.

The three hats:


The Visionary inspires and facilitates - listening carefully to people's imaginations to determine what information is needed. This is a people-y, facilitative type of thinker.
This hat is most needed before there is a map to look at. This person helps others envision what they need to create together. Without one of these, the map risks being boring, derivative and superficial.


The Technician deals with technical tools to gather and represent the needed information using online platforms. This is a tech-y data-intensive type of thinker.
This person takes the survey design and turns it into an online map. Without one of these, you'll run into technical roadblocks and much of your creative juices won't flow into an interesting outcome.


The SenseMaker deals with training & systems-thinking & active inquiry to help others distill meaning from the information that has been gathered and represented. This is a conceptual, teacher-y type of thinker. This person helps the network get the most from the map after it has been created. Without one of these, people won't know what to do with the map and you'll have this great tool sitting there that few people use.

    Upcoming Events

      To be notified of our online events.
        • Related Articles

        • It Takes a Social System to Map a Social System

          It Needs to Be a True CollaborationSocial System Mapping is more of an art than a science. It's an art of 'process' that starts with understanding the purpose or aims of a collaborative/action/intentional network, then learning what kinds of other- ...
        • The Visionary Hat

          Are You An SSM Visionary? The person or persons wearing the Visionary hat are generally the catalysts that get a Social System Mapping project started. They convince network decision-makers to support the project. They help key network members define ...
        • The Technician Hat

          Is Technician The Role You Fill In AN SSM? The Technician or Technicians are generally not catalysts, they're geeks. They're the ones who think fiddling in Kumu is fun, who like learning a little code here & there, who have a sense of how data-bases ...
        • The Three General Phases

          What ARE the three phases? There are no hard and fast absolutes about the process of Social System Mapping. As you proceed, your network will naturally constrain, re-frame, and co-generate its own path to your collectively-desired end-point. And you ...
        • The SenseMaker Hat

          Isn't Sense-Making the Same as Envisioning? Not at all! People often think of visioning & sense-making as the same thing - but in my experience, it doesn't actually work that way. I've known great visionaries as much at a loss for what to do next as ...