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Frame Problem


   System Map

This tool captures the key roles, relationships, and dynamics of a system to enhance understanding of the big picture and potential disruptions to the system.

Session Length: 45+ minutes Group Size: 4+ people Prep Time: 10-20+ minutes


Use a System Map in the early phase of a project, when the system may not be fully understood or defined.


This approach helps a team understand the problem space, players, possible disruptions, and opportunities. The process can also aid in problem framing. A map can help make the team mindful of the needs and priorities of the larger community. The emphasis on relationships and dynamics supports building a diverse and inclusive approach to collaboration. This increased understanding also helps foster an adaptable mindset that takes the team beyond status quo solutions.


STEP 1: Fill out the top boxes by answering the questions, individually or as a group. If done individually, be sure to come together to generate a map that captures the group’s inputs, which will likely be richer and more accurate.

STEP 2: Other questions and considerations to keep in mind while filling out the top boxes include:

  • Who maintains/sustains the current system? How?

  • Does policy play a role?

  • How do the organizations relate to one another? If it helps, draw lines to show connections and relationships.

  • What are the most critical relationships?

  • Is there any competition?

STEP 3: Pay attention to who is at a disadvantage in the current system, as this may yield some opportunities to further explore.
STEP 4: Move to filling out the bottom row. Again, if working individually first, be sure to reconvene and share inputs for the group map.
STEP 5: Other questions and considerations to keep in mind while filling out the bottom boxes include:
  • Who are the disrupters? What are the disrupters? Cultural/Political/Social? Technology/Hardware/Software? Process?
  • Are there any trends outside the system that could have an effect? What type of effect would it have? How could we avoid it?
STEP 6: Once the System Map is complete, there should be a few ideas to explore regarding possible opportunities to bring positive change or disruption to the system.

Download this tool to print out and start using with your team. Each download includes a tool description and if applicable, a template and example.

System Map|Toolkit