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Systems Mapping - a brief overview of what, why and how (Part 2)

This is the second part of this blog, which describes a systems mapping process undertaken by the User Centred Policy Design (UCPD) team in MoJ Digital in partnership with several policy teams working in the prison and probation space. 

While Part 1 describes system mapping as an approach and methodology, this post reflects on our co-creation process and the collaboration between digital and policy teams. We brought together various policy makers from specific, relevant fields to ensure we had the right people in the room to build a map that represents a true reflection of the current state for prison leavers re-entering the community. We did not get enough input from frontline practitioners, and as a result our map is heavily focused on bureaucratic issues and not enough focused on users' needs and obstacles. Our plan is to address this in the next phase when we socialise the map. 

Consistency is key when building your team. We wanted the same people in the room and contributing to the map, for a couple reasons. First off, the map is not static, it is a live artefact which follows a specific process to make, and that process is complex and intellectually challenging. Having the same people in the room each time meant we wouldn’t have to spend hours bringing new people up to speed with the process and the content of the map as it evolved. Additionally, this process creates rich, valid and truthful content and by bringing our participants in at the beginning, we hoped that participants would feel a sense of ownership over the map that would eventually emerge. 

Although initial workshops were based in our offices in Central London, we had coincidentally decided to use Miro, an online whiteboarding tool, to collect content directly onto the digital map. It was very satisfying to deliver a whole workshop using zero post-it notes! This also meant we had a much smoother transition from physical workshop to remote workshop. When COVID-19 forced us all to work remotely, all of our participants were already familiar with Miro, allowing us more time to focus on the workshop activities. 

We made some adaptations to our workshop design, delivery and facilitation as we transitioned into a fully remote state of being. We started our remote workshop with a digital icebreaker where we learned what each participant was wearing on their feet — or not! This allowed us to take a moment to relax into the unusual circumstance of us all working from home. It was great to learn more about how everyone was feeling and dealing with being at home, just through the subtlety of their chosen footwear. This would also help us build a bit of personal rapport among the participants, which would become very important later as we were working in small groups on challenging questions.

With our initial workshops, we tended to work in a big group, or were able to group participants together without facilitators. However, when facilitating online, we found it necessary to split into smaller groups, with one facilitator per group. We noticed this enabled more dialogue and participation between individuals. 

We learned that system mapping takes time, especially when working remotely. We introduced our policy colleagues to both new tools and a new methodology and discovered more time is needed for discussion, with pauses for people to think and ask questions. It takes people a while to get their flow and confidence in order to effectively contribute.  

From both the facilitator and participant perspective, being online for a full-day remote workshop is tiring. Delivering this workshop in mid-March when working 100% remotely — it was an unusual experience for everyone. There were anxieties about the real impact we were facing with COVID-19. Breaking it down into a number of smaller workshops may have been physically and mentally easier for both facilitators and participants. 

As described in Part 1 of this post, the systems mapping process can start to identify small projects that trigger change. The next steps for us will be to sense-check and ‘socialise’ the map. We want to make sure the map is an accurate representation, and we’ve included all relevant stakeholders in the process.

We’ll be back at some unspecified time in the future, once we have a better idea of the outcomes of this work, to talk about what long-term changes this mapping process enables us to identify and effect. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like to hear more about our experiences!

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  1. Comment by Lucy posted on

    Really interesting blog post on the application of Systems Mapping.

    I'd be interested in seeing the ouputs of this piece of work and knowing more about the process of identifying smaller projects.

    Out of interest, what tool did you use to split communication into smaller groups? Or did you set up separate calls for each group? This is something we've been tackling in remote workshops.

    • Replies to Lucy>

      Comment by Heather Madden posted on

      Hi Lucy,
      We used MS Skype for communication and just asked each group to call each other separately. At the same time, we were all working on the same MIro board and writing messages on post-it notes. Zoom would be a better option as you can use the breakout rooms feature, we didn't have access to this at the time.

      We can hopefully write a follow-up post about identifying the smaller projects, once this work gets moving again.

  2. Comment by Tom posted on

    Really great description of the process but where are the outputs? I might be missing something but I thought systems mapping would lead to a tangible systems map of the problem for display?

  3. Comment by Holly K posted on

    I'd also really love to see the outputs of this work as an example to help put systems mapping into context

  4. Comment by Jennings Asin posted on

    Very interesting blog. How did you determine what the specific actors were you needed to bring to the table in your system mapping discussions? Interested in how this could be useful in shaping communication campaigns.


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