Exploring Assumptions & Context: Mapping

Where forecasting techniques investigate potential futures and help prepare you to be adaptive as the future unfolds, mapping strategies help investigate what is happening right now. Mapping is powerful in adaptive planning because many mapping techniques will surface patterns of influence, key levers you can pull to cause change on the issue, and/or dynamics in the environment that may undermine or support your work. These then become things you can either actively seek to change or monitor along the way so you are ready to intervene if they become barriers to your intended results.

You may notice that many of these tools pick up elements of a traditional environmental scan; however, they go deeper than many environmental scans. If you are just entering into an issue area, an environmental scan may still be an appropriate approach, as it will provide you with a good 10,000 foot overview of the issue and potential solutions unlike the tools below, which dig deeper into specific aspects of the complex problem and its potential solutions.

Once again, similar to the forecasting methods in this toolkit , many mapping activities may not feeling dramatically different from a strategic, thoughtful dialogue about what is happening in the environment. What is different is the level of systematic, rigorous information collection and use that goes into creating the maps and the intentionality of how they are used. They push the learning to another level, drawing on more than intuition surfaced in group dialogues. For that reason, they can be powerful tools for helping planning groups to take their process to the next level.


  • The Systems Grantmaking Resource Guide from GEO is an exciting tool, which offers the ability to sort through a variety of systems tools and resources, including mapping techniques, to identify which tools work best in different settings.