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Systems in Eval TIG: Srik Gopal on Using System Mapping as a Tool in Evaluation

I’m Srik Gopal and I co-lead the Strategic Learning and Evaluation practice at FSG, a social impact consulting firm. We engage with a variety of clients – foundations, nonprofits, and companies – in designing and implementing evaluations with a systems lens. In this post, I talk about using system mapping as a tool to support evaluation and learning.

System mapping is a visual way to represent a system’s components and connections. Popular types of system maps include actor maps, trend maps, concept maps, causal loop diagrams, social network maps, and stock and flow diagrams. We have used system mapping in our work with initiatives ranging from improving college access and success, to catalyzing change in early childhood, to strengthening local food systems.

Hot Tip: Kumu is an interactive platform to create, display, and manipulate system maps. We have used it extensively for creating actor maps.  

Rad Resource:  The UK Open University Systems Group has developed various useful resources for different kinds of mapping and diagramming processes.

Rad Resource:  FSG has recently put together a guide to actor mapping plus a four-part blog series based on our experience in this area.

Lessons Learned:

  1. System mapping is more effective when it is part of a larger process of strategy, evaluation, and learning, rather than a stand-alone activity.
  2. The purpose of the system map is to tell a story about the system that is being studied.
  3. The process of a group coming together to create a system map is as, or more important, than the end product itself.
  4. Co-creation and iteration are the name of the game when it comes to system mapping.

Happy mapping!

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating this week with our colleagues in the Systems in Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our Systems in Evaluation TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

1 thought on “Systems in Eval TIG: Srik Gopal on Using System Mapping as a Tool in Evaluation”

  1. I especially agree that systems mapping works better when it is not a stand-alone activity.

    Mapping can be much more than just a one-time activity to tell a story. We can also use our maps to:
    * Quantitatively and qualitatively assess how complete our understanding is, based on the logical structure of our map.
    * Collect data to measure the points on our maps
    * Improve our maps as we gain new information, to create better maps.
    For more information, see my January post: http://aea365.org/blog/ic-tig-week-bernadette-wright-a-new-method-to-increase-success-in-entrepreneurship/


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