Why Say “Makes Possible”?
I was going to call this section ‘The Benefits of Participatory Community Network Mapping’ - but there’s a risk of over-simplified over-promotion here. It serves no purpose for us to extol the benefits of participatory community network mapping as if a network map in & of itself creates those benefits automatically. Network maps are a necessary condition, but how much a community realizes those benefits depends on the processes used to produce and make use of them.
If I’m hiking through unknown rugged territory, over complex terrain with few paths, having a good map in my pack makes it possible for me to find my destination with a minimum of disaster and aimless wandering. But if I never learn to read that map, never pull it out, never work to orient my current position to the map & fail to frequently verify my assumptions about my direction - the map is useless. The map makes not getting lost possible, but it only works if I engage with it intelligently.
It’s the same here. The quality of the mapping process is all-important: WHAT we choose to map; WHOSE agenda that ‘what’ reflects; WHOSE language defines the underlying structure; WHO informs those choices and WHOM is going to benefit; HOW we make those choices -- and the ongoing engagement: WHAT conversations we allow the maps to instigate; HOW we in turn represent salient outcomes of those conversations in the map; HOW we include the map in planning, decision-making, etc. going forward -- those factors determine how much of the possible benefits a community can realize.
Maps are a TOOL, not a silver bullet. And the more inclusive and participatory the methodology is, the more benefit can be derived. So I prefer to refer to what mapping ‘makes possible’.
I don’t drive this home because I doubt the reader’s ability to understand. I stress it because I know from experience how easy it is (even when understanding) to allow a community’s enthusiasm to carry everyone off into unrealistic expectations. We need to affirm the excitement, while being serious about clarifying and preparing for the complexity of and effort required for the generative work needed.
So, Ok - off my soapbox & on to the benefits Aldo suggests are being made possible.
It’s true that WE must do the sensemaking work, but what Participatory Community Network Mapping provides is a powerful new set of tools and processes to support that work, starting with a new lens on the current reality of a system that we can’t get any other way.
Seeing the Bigger Picture & Grounding in Context
You’ve probably come across the parable of the blind men and the elephant (shown in the image below) many times in recent years. It’s a good metaphor for our differing mental maps, our various perspectives on ‘reality’, often used to illustrate why we need to include all the diverse stakeholders when addressing complex problems.
The thing we need to remember, relative to those different senses of the elephant is this - no-one learns anything new if we don’t contrast and discuss our different experiences. We must make-sense of the elephant together. And at the same time, if we discuss it once, return to our normal stances & don’t capture anything of what we learned from one another, the next bunch of blind men have to make sense of the whole elephant all over again. We might have changed our own minds a little, but done next to nothing to move the system.
To truly change the system, we have to let what we’ve learned change us, and we also have to feed that learning and those changes back into the system as a whole. Which is what a good network map can help with.
That’s another way of saying, as Aldo did in the first post, that a ‘map without conversations is nothing and conversations without some form of mapping are much more fragmented’.
System-Revealing and Insight-Sharing Conversations
What those conversations can reveal- and the maps can capture - are the dimensions of the collective reality that are beyond our own personal perspective. They help us see what’s relevant outside of our own time, place & private mental maps.
For instance, every good community-organizer/connector/network weaver has a private map in their own minds of who is interested in what, who has access to which resources, who needs what. But that mental map generally remains private. For anyone else to benefit from that information, the 'Hub-type' person has to be consulted directly, or has to personally intervene. For that person to have to be personally instrumental in most flows of value through the network 1) becomes personally taxing, 2) creates bottlenecks, 3) creates disproportionate power and influence, and 4) if/when that person goes away, puts the network at risk. A good community network map can help EVERYONE navigate & mediate that larger collective reality, find overlaps, find gaps, find new ways to combine our insights, efforts, resources, influence & power.
These kinds of insights can re-orient projects, as well as help community members re-envision their own roles within a community.
Feedback Loops & Shared Learning
Aldo is articulating, and using mapping to address, the need for change-makers to document, represent, highlight, share, and be guided by COLLECTIVE sensemaking - the sense that lies BEYOND individual/project-based learning & individual/project-based goals so that individuals and projects can align with, support and be supported by the larger field.
For a map to become a feedback loop it needs to be embedded in an iterative process of mapping, sensemaking, community building and monitoring - we’ll go into that more in another post. The point here is - we need to stop the leakage, and a well-used network map can become a powerful tool to support that process.
Finding a New Path Forward
Guided by the collective experience and collective sense-making, we can discover and create new openings, new patterns, new flows. Learning where there ALREADY IS energy, resources, power & influence (as well as where those things are missing) reveals stepping stones to our long term visions.
Maps can help us accelerate & be intentional in finding where we can collaborate.
The maps can show us how we ALREADY fit together.
Maximizing Time Spent Together
When people are coming together from a distance for rare face-time, it’s especially helpful for them to be able to identify who is coming from where & what they’re doing, as in this example:
In my next post Aldo thinks about the importance of language and storytelling in Participatory Community Network Mapping - how they can contribute to turning what’s possible into reality.
After that we'll explore power, then process and finally, considerations related to participatory mapping.