Rules-of-thumb for Gigamapping
Birger Sevaldson, June 2012, Revised November 2017
“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
Below, I present some rules of thumb for how to gigamap. These rules have emerged through years of experience producing such maps and instructing students and professionals in gigamapping.
Nothing is irrelevant: Deactivate any ‘filter of relevance’ or other preconceptions regarding the task. Indeed, forget the task completely and map with the field or the theme in mind, rather than with the task or brief in mind.
Nothing is uninteresting: All information, even the smallest detail, is interesting in its own right. Search and hunt for this information. Be interested in the findings.
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 the inability to increase the resolution of the map. Dig for the details.
Ackoff describes such an expanding process. (Russell A.L., Ackoff’s Best, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999. (p19))
This is related to Checklands Rich Picture as well. (Checkland, P. (2000). Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons LTD.)
Cheap and accessible media: At first, use low-threshold media such as cheap paper. Do not use a computer. Use low-quality, large-format paper roles. Using the wrong medium in the beginning will stop the flow, and it will certainly influence your way of thinking. This is especially true when you want to involve stakeholders and experts. Do not use digital tools; instead, involve everybody by giving them markers and a huge paper surface.
Reduce post-its: All media influence the thinking and process. Yellow labels tend to overemphasise the objects or entities at the cost of their relationships. These media shape the diagramming into a field of squares and do not work well in tandem with a more organic drafting of the maps. Using post-its derails you from the design process, where you should be adding qualitative information through sketching.
Just do it: Do not hesitate to conserve resources—there is more paper available if you did as suggested above. Do not plan the mapping; develop it while going along and redesigning it in iterations. Too much upfront planning is a guaranty for destroying the explorative and generative qualities of the mapping process. Start your investigation anywhere in the system and work your way across the field and up and down hierarchies and scales. Avoid a central nucleus, so first develop neutral fields with no particular centre of gravity. Centres of gravity are found, or even generated, in the map later. Just do it and redo it.
Don’t talk too much — talk, write and draw: Especially in groups, some people tend to become entangled in verbal discussions and then fall into old patterns of doing things. They discuss instead of doing the mappings. The discussions might be interesting, but they are wasted effort because nothing is registered, processed, designed and related to the map. The best way of developing such discussions and turning them into something new is to ask the participants to document their discussions and map it out on the paper. Having a five-minute talking ban can be an efficient way to turn the dynamics from talking to talking-mapping.
Facilitate, do not dominate: In teamwork with experts and stakeholders, do not dominate. The whole process can become biased if you impose your preconceptions or if you want to demonstrate your mapping skills as a designer. This can frighten people off. You want to tease out the things you have not even thought of. Therefore, do not interrupt the 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 into 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. Externalising existing knowledge in teams will help spread out and share the collective team resources.
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 is to use a very high resolution on your information. Look for the smallest details in a chain of events.
Avoid hierarchy: Use concept-mapping types of diagrams (cross-referential maps) rather than mind maps (hierarchical maps). Search for the horizontal relations.
Don’t brainstorm: There is a lot of research showing that brainstorming does not work. We do not need 500 fancy and funny ideas that fall apart when put to the test. We are happy to find one or two innovations that are thoroughly grounded in the system, 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, biasing your work. Reality must fit into your map. Therefore, allow for a long and messy sketch phase.
Mix it up: Strive to produce a ‘deep’ map. This means that the map should contain many layers of different information. Finding and creating relations between types of categorically different information that seems to be totally detached is one of the goals of GIGA-mapping. Therefore, allow for different ways of representing information in the map.
Use timelines: Timeline mapping is very efficient, especially when creating maps with other people. It allows for open-ended discussions that do not need an agenda to be very focused. Jumping back and forth on the map does not disturb the focus because everybody is informed about the context of the jumps. This allows for a better 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 by defining the relations. A simple line is not sufficient. Arrows indicate the directions of the relationships. Use additional font variations and colour coding to indicate quantitative diversities. Use other types of relations such as proximity or sequencing. Put labels with small descriptive texts or other notes onto the relations, not only onto the entities.
If a group has problems focusing on relations, take a time-out at a certain moment and ask them to spend 15 minutes only on the relationships, 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 now. 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. 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. This will always get the discussion rolling and help bring up the issues you have not thought of.
Switch media: Start with simple, low-threshold media, such as big paper rolls and markers, but switch to other media later. Redraw the map on your computer, and plot it out in large formats to continue working manually. Then, repeat the process with new iterations. Switching media will accelerate your process, learning and interpretation of the map.
Display, do not 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 functions is to make large amounts of information and systems of relationships instantly accessible. Clients love the maps and often hang them in their boardrooms.
Design early: Sketch and draw from the beginning. Do not stick to text only, but do not get locked in to your design ideas too early. Keep your ideas open-ended, and avoid letting them become guidance for the mapping process and research. Do not let early ideas bias your investigations. Gigamapping is a composite 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? To do this, you need to develop your scenarios and design drafts well.
Design and redesign: GIGA-mapping is a design process on its own, and it is nested inside the design process. The map is a designed artefact. Use your design skills to develop the map through real 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 reorganise 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 is potential for doing things better. Search for possible new relations, intervention points and innovations (ZIP analyses). Interconnect and orchestrate the design interventions through stepwise implementation, or demonstrate how the design interventions can reinforce each other.
Be critical: Scrutinise your mapping through pro-et-contra analyses and your solutions through worst case scenarios, risk assessment, critical foresight or similar techniques.
Validate: Validate the content of your map though triangulation of sources, boundary critiques, zoom maps (ZIP analyses), coding and rating of the information’s reliability, building of expert networks and through back checking (read more about this in the tools section).
Design the design process: The gigamap is a design artefact. It is a construct and is 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 a different mapping process.