Exploring Methods for Generative Iteration of Our Social System Map

What Ways Are We Addressing the Iteration Challenge?

You may be wondering – what’s with all this fuss we’ve been making about one simple question to add to our sumApp profile for our Community of Practice Social System Map? Why spend so much time & energy on defining one small, simple survey question – it seems like a lot of nitty-gritty tedium for not much reward! But it only looks that way if you look at it with old-school eyes.
If you’ve been wondering – here’s why:

We Social System Mappers haven’t yet learned how to approach the maintenance & updating of our Social System Maps from a generative mindset.

Many of us have learned how to launch a mapping project in an inclusive, multi-perspective, collaborative way, but most of us are still approaching the task of map maintenance and enhancement from an old-school mechanistic paradigm. There’s a valid tension between co-creating and not wasting people’s time. There’s this refrain I hear all the time called ‘how do we get them to. . . ? ‘ – which assumes they don’t want to, assumes the mapper knows what’s right, assumes that learning from a mapping practice is an outcome that comes at the end of a linear process, delivered to a mostly passive audience, assumes our responsibility/authority to convince. . . In other words ‘how do we get them to. . . ? ‘ is essentially coercive and full of old-school assumptions.

If we’re serious about amplifying the potential of Social System Mapping – we need to learn how to face and work through what I’m callingThe Iteration Challenge”.

The Iteration Challenge in a nutshell: How do we share and invite people into this mapping potential without coercion, w/o wasting people’s time on annoying word-smithing debates, and w/o simply reinforcing a status-quo definition of reality that we may want to be moving away from? How do we do this in a way that invites curiosity, where the iteration process itself generates more insight into the community and the broader systems the community is interested in changing. In a way that inspires people to care more about one another, to want to work together on challenges large and small, and to care about keeping the map evolving and up to date.
Achieving the potential we envision in a Social System Map means figuring out how to make this challenge both manageable and catalytic in inviting, stimulating and generative ways. We need to experiment with applying transformational principles to the whole extended lifecycle of a Social System Map, not just to the project launch phase.

And if WE – who practice Social System Mapping and are the people most invested in it’s potential – don’t figure this out, no-one will!

We need to co-design a methodology for handling the Iteration Challenge in ways that:
  1. Recognize the power of questions and;
  2. Align with system-thinking/complexity/regenerative design principles.
That’s what we’re experimenting with. It’s not just about getting at the content of a new suggested survey question as quickly as possible.
So regardless of how trivial and time-wasting this process may look on the surface: for now, there is nothing more important for some of us to be putting our creative, problem-solving energies into. And it’s turning out to be deep & meaningful work.

What This Means in Practice

While exploring the Iteration Challenge, we hold primary this comment from David Cooperrider – that:

We live in the world our questions create.

Our Social System Maps are nothing more than our collective responses to questions we ask, so our questions are of central importance to our mapping practice. They deserve to be articulated through many perspectives, and designed to be as generative as we can make them.


The Purpose of This Exploration:

To explore and model a process of moving away from holding the Iteration Challenge in a Social System Map as an administrative chore, to holding it as an opportunity.
An opportunity to:
  • Have conversations we haven’t had yet.
  • Ensure that contributions are acknowledged and can have an impact.
  • Ensure that both the authority and the work of defining our world through our questions is distributed.
  • Deepen our thinking about the system we ARE and are trying to become.
  • Process work and generativity like an ecosystem.
  • Deepen relationships through shared exploration and increasing shared understanding
  • Practice adaptive action/Theory U/Co-Creation together – while getting small-scale indirect-impact work done.
  • Practice leveraging whatever small tasks come our way into new, more generative patterns.

Patterns From The 12 Principles of Permaculture design that inform the design of a Social System Mapping methodology and the development of our community:

  • Observe and interact
  • Catch and store energy
  • Obtain a yield
  • Apply self-regulation & accept feedback
  • Use & value renewable resources & services
  • Produce no waste
  • Design from patterns to details
  • Integrate rather than segregate
  • Use small and slow solutions
  • Use and value diversity
  • Use edges & value the marginal
  • Creatively use and respond to change
Each of these principles are reflected in this exploration.
There more ways those principles relate to our own community-building and to Social System Mapping, but that can wait for another time.

What We’ve Gained So Far Through the Initial Round of this Exploratory Process, Focused on the Question of Informal Roles :

  • A different list of informal roles than we started with, a list which is more suited to US and more suited to our regenerative intentions.
  • Deeper insight into what we want to be together and how we might catalyze more depth.
  • New ideas – the exploration itself has sparked new thinking that can lead to more cool new things for us to do together.
  • Stronger relationships – those of us working on this experiment can produce more together now than we could before we started this process. We understand one another better now, and we know how to work together more, we can channel and increase our energies together better now.
  • Our co-thinking muscles are being exercised – that makes us better collaborative partners for everyone, and better co-thinking models. We’re indirectly increasing the co-thinking capacity of the whole community.
  • We are learning what it can mean to implement regenerative design principles in our own mapping contexts.


One simple discovery

The more frequently we examine a question (in this instance, referring to Informal Roles), the more sticky it becomes, the more it works on us, the more we think together about what it could mean, could imply, and could change. Looking at the foundational questions of who we want to be together is actually a pattern-shift in itself that makes more possible.
In other words, there is learning and meaning-making and relationship-building at every step of the way, not just in the final clusters we’ll be able to look at in the map.

What’s Next?

There are more steps necessary to close the loop on this initial reiteration cycle:
Getting feedback on the final draft and finalizing the language
Putting the new question into sumApp and reflected in Kumu
Sharing the story – including this explanation and the Informal Roles Narrative.
Inviting people to update their sumApp instance (and share their preferred roles).
SenseMaking with the new ‘roles’ information that shows up in the map.
Listening for and sharing stories related to the SenseMaking we do around Informal Roles.
If you’d like to contribute to any of the next steps of this exploration, or are interested in helping with our next iteration cycle please reach out to Christine Capra, Mary Roscoe, or Jim Best
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