Why think about each phase separately?

Why think about each phase separately?

Now - you can plow through this whole process as if it’s one big linear project whose purpose is to end up with a final outcome, such as ‘a map’ or ‘an analysis’ (i.e. - a product). But In that case, you’re going to have to get the vision and the technical aspect and the views for sensemaking all figured out, and clear and correct & final up front - because you’ll just have one shot at each step of the process.

And doing that will defeat or at least confuse the experience of working through an emergent process together, which is a main purpose of Social System Mapping.

But more importantly - you’re not actually ready to finalize everything up front yet. Your network can’t see any of this clearly yet - and no matter how much you wish you could - you can’t see it FOR them. And as THEY start to see into the mapping project, that will impact how YOU see the mapping project. Everyone’s understanding, including yours, will change as the project continues.

I’ve participated in several projects that ultimately failed due to starting out too ambitiously, with wrongly aimed ambitions. I say this, not because they failed to create the product they set out to create, but because front-loading the process gave them a product that missed the mark, that few people understood, and that didn’t engage the network.

So, don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Go through an initial quick walk-through of all three phases. Keep it super-simple, just involve a small handful of people with a tolerance for experimentation and exploration. Treat it like an emergent prototype.The idea here is just to dive in and get your feet wet, learn how the tools work, and start to imagine the process through the eyes of network members who no nothing about mapping.

A small and simple start will give you more confidence about what you’re doing, and help you do a better job leading the envisioning process with the broader network.

Once that first rough cycle from beginning to end is done, you’ll return to the knowledge base to get a little more clarity and start to compare what you've done so far with what it is you think your network will want to see.

And as I said earlier, the knowledge base will start to make more sense to you now as you begin to examine the next layer of mapping.

Then you'll go through the whole cycle, again, still keeping it relatively small. Test out some new survey questions, include a few more people, and then take what you have so far and use it to generate conversations about what you have and what more should be included.

Ask yourself, and others in the network - what’s missing? Ask, is there more info that we could gather? Share it with the people on the map, and share it with some people who AREN’T yet on the map asking the same questions.

Once you've gone through a cycle or two, that’s when you’ll really be able to think more fully about what does it mean to visualize the existing and potential connections in our network? How do we think together in this new way? How do we use this new visual language to have conversations about our network that we can’t have without this?

Another problem with front-loading the process is that then you have this idea that the end product will, at some point, be ‘Done’ - like a website, and that then people will use it. But I can promise you - they won’t. They won’t use it until they’re learned the meaning and language of it. And think about how you learned to read written language. You didn’t start with an encyclopedia and a single hour or two of reading lessons. You started to learn to read with very simple baby-books, containing just a few words, with a loved one walking you through it, and with lots of repetition. So do everyone a favor & start where people are ready to start and not a single step beyond that.

So - in other words, if your group is already fairly familiar with this visual language & you can generate interest in word-smithing the survey and people will participate in a big envisioning process - GREAT - do that! But if there’s less readiness, just take baby-steps & cycle through the phases more times. And no matter where you start, just know that it never really ends, you just continue to go deeper and deeper into collective awareness as the map keeps morphing over time.

So - anyway, once you’ve gone through a cycle or two - this is a good time to start connecting more with the on-ramp sessions or with the online community forums. Start sharing what you’ve done & learned so far, start asking more questions and generating conversations that help you think more deeply about what's possible and how you want to move forward with your own network.

I'm calling out these three phases in part because they’re circular and iterative, but also because even though they kind of blur into one another in an ongoing cycle, each phase requires a different mindset and different activities.

So it's really useful to think in terms of what is this phase entails and to separate each phase out in your mind so that you do each one thoughtfully as you can.
For instance, let’s say you already have a prototype map, you've done some preliminary sense-making with it, and you're starting to see patterns. There will still be a point where it’s important to go back to square one. Pretend you have a clean slate & adopt your beginner’s mind again and consider what might be valuable to map that we haven’t already identified and mapped. In other words, go back to staring beyond what IS into what is still unknown - Don't ONLY build on what's already there.

Are there systemic dynamics that your network is impacted by or is trying to impact that haven’t yet incorporated? Can you figure out how you could incorporate those dynamics?

And then do the same with Mapping. What tricks do sumApp and Kumu offer that you haven’t taken advantage of yet? Are there better ways to visualize the data, are your views telling the stories you need them to tell? What meaningful connections we’ve not highlighted yet? What potential have we not yet surfaced?

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