How to GIGA-map

How to GIGA-map

Rule-of-thumbs for GIGA-mapping

Birger Sevaldson

June 2012

Revised February 2016


"Within the final and true world image everything is related to everything, and nothing can be discarded a priori as being unimportant."  Fritz Zwingy 1969


In the following, I present some rules of thumbs for how to GIGA-map. These rules have emerged through years of experience with producing such maps and instructing students and professionals in GIGA-mapping.

Nothing is irrelevant: Deactivate any filter of relevance to the task. Indeed, forget the task completely and map with the field or the theme in mind rather than the task or brief.

Nothing is uninteresting: All information, even the smallest detail, is interesting in its own right. Search and hunt for it. Be interested in the findings as such.

Strive for information richness: If the map is too simple and contains too few elements, there is something wrong. Often, the problem is an inability to put aside filters about what is relevant. The other main reason is a lacking ability to increase the resolution of the map.

Silly rule of thumbs: you need a minimum of 300 entities on the map.

Cheap and accessible media:  Use low-threshold media like cheap paper in the beginning. Do not use a computer. Use low-quality, large-format paper roles. Using the wrong medium in the beginning will stop the flow. Especially when you want to involve stakeholders and experts, do not use digital tools but rather, involve everybody by giving them markers and a huge paper surface. Use a table, not a wall. This is better for access and discussions.

Reduce yellow labels: All media influence the thinking and the process. Yellow labels tend to overemphzise the objects or entities on the cost of the relations. They shape the diagramming into a field of squares and do not work nicely with more organic drafting of the maps.

Just do it: Do not hesitate to conserve resources—there is more paper available if you did as suggested above. Don’t plan the mapping but develop it while going along and redesigning in iterations. Planning the mapping is a guaranty for destroying the explorative and generative qualities of the mapping process. You cannot plan for something you can’t survey and the mapping is there to create the overview so that you might be able to plan. Start to unfold at any detail of the theme. Avoid a central nucleus but develop first neutral fields with no particular center of gravity. Centers of gravity are found or even generated in the map later. Just do it and re-do it.

Don’t talk too much — write and draw: Especially in groups, some people tend to get entangled in verbal discussions that fall into old patterns. They discuss instead of doing the mappings. The best way of develop such discussions and turn them into something new or to leave them behind and progress into unknown territory is to ask the participants to document their discussions and map it out on the paper.

Facilitate, don’t dominate: In group work with experts and stakeholders, don’t dominate. It can bias the whole process if you impose your preconceptions. You want to tease out the things you haven’t even thought of. Therefore, don’t interrupt flow. If participants are passive, handing them markers at the right moment can be effective. When they say something, ask them to put it on the map. Ask them to elaborate when they make a comment. Split out sub-groups when interesting points emerge.

Activate existing knowledge: Do not research information in the beginning. This will stop your flow before you even have started. Use your existing knowledge and map it out completely. Then identify what is insufficient and what is speculative and plan your information-gathering research accordingly.

Defy filters and schemata: Be aware of your preconceptions and prejudices. Put them aside and look beyond them as well as you can. Try to grasp “how the real world really is”. Observation is great. A main weapon against preconceptions and schemata is to use very high resolution on your information. Look for the smallest details in a chain of events.

Avoid hierarchy: Use concept-mapping types of diagrams rather than mind maps. Search out the horizontal relations.

Don’t brainstorm: There is ample documentation that brainstorming does not work. We do not need 500 fancy and funny ideas that fall apart when put in the rain. We are happy to find one or two innovations that are thoroughly grounded in the organization, its environment and economic reality.

Messy is good:  Do not let your inner designer take over the process too early. Let it be as messy as the reality you try to cope with.  Overdesigning the mapping too early turns design into a mould for reality, therefore allow for a long and messy sketch phase.

Mix it up:  Strive to produce a “deep” map. This means that the map contains many layers of different information. Finding relations and creating relations between types of categorically different information that seemingly is totally detached is one of the goals in GIGA-mapping. Therefore, allow for different ways of representing information in the map.

Use timelines: Timeline mapping is very efficient, especially in co-creation of maps. It allows for open-ended discussions that do not need an agenda to be very focussed. Jumping back and forth on the map does not disturb the focus because everybody is informed about the context of the jumps. This allows flow and a dynamic discussion.

Never start with the start: When timeline mapping, start close to the middle of the timeline so that earlier things have sufficient space to unfold.

Look for relations: Emphasise the relations rather than the entities. Work with defining the relations. A simple line is not sufficient. Arrows indicate directions of relations. Use additional font variations and colour coding to indicate quantitative diversities. Use other types of relations like proximity or sequencing. Put labels with small descriptive texts or other notes onto the relations and not only onto the entities. Avoid yellow labels, they reinforce thinking of the entities rather than the relations.

If a group has difficulties with focussing on relations, take a time-out at a certain moment and ask them to spend 15 minutes only on relations, finding out what is connected to what and how.

Create relations: GIGA-mapping is both descriptive and generative. Use the mapping to create relations that are not there today. What relations should be created to make the system function better?

Collaborate: Individual mapping is valuable but it is also a very good collaborative tool. Time-line mapping works very especially well in groups. Involve experts and stakeholders. You can make an individual map initially and bring it to a short workshop with experts and stakeholders or to the first client meeting.

Switch media:  Start with simple, low-threshold media like big paper rolls and markers but switch to other media later. Redraw the mapping on your computer and plot it out in large formats to continue working manually. Then repeat the process with new iterations.

Display, don’t hide: Don’t roll up and store away your maps during the design process. They are the centre of your Rich Design Space. One of their most important function is to make large amounts of information and systems of relations instantly accessible. Clients love the maps. They often hang them in their board rooms.

Design early: Sketch and draw from the beginning. Don’t stick to text only, but don’t get locked too early to your design ideas. Keep them open ended and avoid letting them become guidance for the mapping process and the research. Don’t let early ideas bias your investigations.

Gigamapping is a composit approach that is both analytical and solution driven. Investigate the system by proposing interventions, ideas and innovations and test them through scenarios. How would the system cope with or react to particular solutions and ideas?

Design and redesign: GIGA-mapping is a design process on its own, nested inside the design process. The map is a designed artefact. Use your design skills to develop the map through Design Thinking. Analyses and designing are integrated. Redesign through several iterations where you add missing information, take the design through workshops with experts and stakeholders and reorganize and systematise the map.

Don’t over-design: Be sensitive to when designing becomes over-designing. Be suspicious toward overly designed maps where things line up too nicely. Does this really represent the “real world”?

Analyse: Search for points and areas where there are potentialities for doing things better. Search for possible new relations, intervention points and innovations. Interconnect and orchestrate the design interventions through stepwise implementation or demonstrate how the design interventions can reinforce each other

Be critical:  Scrutinize your mapping through pro-et-contra analyses and your resolutions through catastrophic scenario games critical foresight or similar technique.

Design the design process: The gigamap is a design artefact. It is a construct and not a perfect picture of reality. It should be regarded as a design artefact and refined as such. Each process needs a different approach and different mapping process.