Systems Mapping

My approach to systems mapping activities was inspired by the work of Karen Grattan, Jeff Mohr and the team at The Omidyar Group, which they term Systems Practice.

The aim of this practice is to build up a comprehensive map of the system structures and forces, look for patterns where reinforcing and balancing loops occur, and then look for points of leverage.

Whilst this method, conducted as a participatory process, has huge potential, I found the amount of time needed challenging for many smaller organisations and (despite practitioners warning against) it often leads to a sense of the map as ‘truth’. Given insights about complexity theory (systems are emergent), I feel this method needs some modification for further use in my practice.

Key Insights

1. Introducing New Feedback Loops

The systems leverage exercise was useful to spot opportunities for designing a greater degree of leverage into an intervention, as well as to spot pitfalls for which were likely to get the greatest resistance from the sector. Generally, according to Donella Meadows [59], “The higher the leverage point, the more the system will resist changing it”.

The opportunity for introducing new feedback loops to the system appears significant, as previous research indicated there were significant gaps in activity, monitoring and evaluation data.

2. Targeting Vicious Cycles

Looking at the systems mapping analysis closely, there were several vicious cycles identified, which were deeply connected to other cycles; namely a couple of cycles around young people’s involvement (or lack of), capacity building, and innovation.

These have elevated the need for not just a technological approach to sectoral change, but a socio-cultural response to the issues.

3. Anthropocentrism in Society

There’s a significant theme which has emerged from several angles in my research, which is the role that anthropocentrism (human-first world view) plays in corroding any response to biodiversity loss, even a flotilla of responses. At the very root of decision making (big and small) about the future seems to lie the pernicious intent to prioritise human development over the needs and potential of other living species.

In some way, this is where the whole research project began - an enquiry into how to create better volunteering experiences, to enable more people to have positive experiences of participation in the natural world. At the time, I perhaps didn’t recognise the goal I was striving towards was to shift people toward a more ecocentric worldview.

There is great potential for the environmental conservation sector to play a central role in spreading and deepening a sense of ecocentrism. Kortenkamp & Moore [60] describe ecocentrism in their article in the Journal of Environmental Psychology: “In an ecocentric ethic nature has moral consideration because it has intrinsic value, value aside from its usefulness to humans”.

Some say that US writer and environmental activist, Aldo Leopold, was the father of environmental ethics. He notes in his 1949 work:

“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man, nor for us to reap from it the esthetic harvest it is capable, under science, of contributing to culture.”

Aldo Leopold, A Sand Country almanac [61]