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System mapping, the process of creating visual tools that describe a system, is a critical step in systems change that brings together stakeholders from across organizations and sectors to develop a common understanding of a given system. Breaking down the mapping process into 3 stages—preparation, facilitation, and revision—this guide provides detailed instructions, helpful hints, and visual examples for practitioners to follow as they create one type of system map called an actor map.

Top Takeaways

  1. Actor maps identify individuals and organizations that are key players in a certain space and shows how they are connected.
  2. Due to the complexity of systems, no 2 actor maps will be exactly alike. This guide helps practitioners create an actor mapping process customized to the specific context of their evaluation or initiative.
  3. Creating a comprehensive actor map requires both explicit data from evaluations and studies, and implicit knowledge from the participants. Making sure you have the right actors at the table, as well as a variety of supporting data, will lead to a more useful map.