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Four things I learned from taking part in Map the System

On 15-17 June 2020, the Skoll Centre’s Map the System Competition held its Global Final virtually. The team from Mount Royal University competed against 30 other finalists from institutions around the world at the event. Team member Jillian Mah shares her learnings from the process of mapping the Canadian charity system for the competition.

Over the past 10 months, I joined a team at Mount Royal University to compete in the Map the System Competition alongside two wonderful people, Ashley Dion and Matthew Taburadaf for whom I am incredibly grateful to have worked with. 

I won’t speak for them, but here are a few of the many things I’ve learned over the course of the project.  

1. You don’t know complexity until you’re sucked into 100 holes, but it’s good learning!

When we started this project, we had no idea how big it would grow into. What began as a small curiosity about a trend quickly grew into a massive exploration of human psychology and behaviour, feedback loops, organizational dynamics, funding models, ideologies, statistics, data, policy, and philosophy. Being a beginner in most of these areas, it was a lot to take on, but in a way, it was an advantage to take a birds-eye view of these things and make connections between them. Because of the freedom we allowed ourselves to explore, Map the System was one of the best educational experiences I’ve had. 

2. Systems maps mean nothing unless they tell a story.

Speaking of complexity, making sense of the complexity is a challenge on its own. Language and representation are powerful, and the smallest details make such a difference. The implications of representation, narrative, language, visuals, hierarchy, centering, and production are many. Further, representation cannot be done without bias, and I’ll be the first to say my biases were challenged during this project. Turning complex research into a clear, simple story is an act that requires careful attention. 

3. Systems and human experiences cannot be separated. 

Systems are created and maintained by people. Our ideas, histories, and values inform every part of our systems. Systems also affect people, and understanding people needs to be at the centre of the conversation. Consequently, within Canada, there are many different ways of thinking about social good, and even ways more globally. Questions like whose job it is to create social good, how to go about it, and what our expectations are of each other and ourselves have no single answer.

4. Building on this, there is no single way of creating change

A question that we were asked multiple times throughout the course of the project was, unsurprisingly, “so what?” What should we do to make sure people are taken care of? What do we need to fix? 

Fair enough, that’s a good question. And our answer? Well, there is no simple answer, since there is no single definition of social good. What we do know is that meaningful, sustainable change comes from systemic change, and the part of the system that change comes from is our people and their mental models. The systems we design and our fundamental ways of knowing are closely intertwined.

Change is not a one-way street. Shifts in the system require a shift in mental models, just as shifts in mental models require a shift in the system. It’s not enough to just focus on local or systems levels; both are necessary.

Importantly, however, this leads me right back to my first point about complexity. The complexity of systems is what makes them so wicked, yet so intriguing to explore. Systems will always be hard to fully understand, and even harder to change. Systems mapping is nothing short of a challenge, but one of the most worthwhile challenges to take on. Awareness, intent, learning, and finding wonder are values I hold close to my heart, and the Map the System challenge offered me every opportunity to embrace these values.

If you are interested in learning more about our project or otherwise, please feel free to reach out to me.

Map the System: adolescent pregnancy in Peru

On 15-17 June 2020, the Skoll Centre’s Map the System Competition held its Global Final virtually. The team from University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy competed against 30 other finalists from institutions around the world, making it to the final six and presenting their work to a public audience. Sara Surani and Annie Kuster entered the Map the System competition as an excuse to dive deeper into a topic and a community they had been interested in working alongside for years, and here they share how they mapped the system to address adolescent pregnancy in Peru.

Sara and Annie met in November of 2018 in Lima, the capital city of Peru. They were both on a Fulbright fellowship studying similar topics in different regions of the country: Annie was researching the efficacy of storytelling methodology among teenage mothers in Cusco (mountain region); Sara was researching barriers to access health and education in Lima (urban region) and communities along the Amazon and Marañón Rivers in northern Peru (jungle region).

Over a combined nearly 30 months in Peru, Annie and Sara formed deep connections with the young women they were working with, and found themselves inspired by their stories of empathy, resilience, and strength. Structural issues in Peruvian society became more personal as challenges like “health care access” were explained through the eyes of Joanna, the 15-year-old mother who had experienced human trafficking while searching for an illegal abortion, and Maria, who had to travel a full day in canoe to reach the nearest clinic before dark, only to have the clinic refuse health services.

While listening to stories of girls and their communities, Sara and Annie realized that their journey supporting and amplifying the voices of these girls had just begun. After her grant finished, Sara stayed in Peru to continue working with youth in the northern Amazon, and Annie pursued a Master’s degree in International Development & Policy at the Harris School of Public Policy.

Through Harris, Annie was introduced to the Oxford “Map the System” competition and immediately reached out to Sara. They were still intent on finding the best way to support community development efforts targeting the health and well-being of these girls, and Annie saw the Oxford competition as an opportunity to leverage their existing contacts and dive deeper before attempting their ultimate goal: founding a community-based organization focused on promoting reproductive health and youth empowerment. They decided to name their organization “Nayaraq”, or “one with many dreams” in the Peruvian native language of Quechua.

To formulate their ideas, systems map, and final report, Annie and Sara read through secondary reports in English and Spanish, published by internal entities like the Peruvian government and local think tanks, as well as external organizations criticizing and comparing the Peruvian handling of the issue, including UNFPA and Oxfam. Annie and Sara also reached out to contacts across Peru, including healthcare workers and midwives, stakeholders in the Ministries of Health and Education, local NGOs, and thought leadership at women’s rights organizations like Promsex, Plan International, and APROPO.

Although they spoke to over 130 stakeholders in the public and private sectors, Sara and Annie prioritized understanding adolescent perspectives. In what ways is the current system failing them? How can we collaborate with and empower youth to address their needs in order to improve reproductive health agency? How can the Nayaraq team help support catalytic change?

Sara and Annie realized that existing solutions were not efficiently collaborating across sectors and geographies. There is currently a deep divide between resource access in rural and urban regions, and strong communication gaps between the public and private sector. Existing programming relies heavily on eliminating financial barriers to healthcare access and nominally promoting comprehensive sex education without adapting to the diverse cultural contexts of each region. Furthermore, the majority of existing solutions are targeted specifically and exclusively for adolescent girls without consideration of boys’ roles in the reproductive health of their communities.

Therefore, Annie and Sara identified the following critical gaps in existing programming, leading to what they believe to be important levers of change: 

Critical gaps in programming are limited access to healthcare, limited female labor market participation, Machista power dynamics, lack of comprehensive sex education and oversimplification and centralisation of programming.
Click to enlarge the image and explore the identified levers of change

Participating in Map the System not only deepened their understanding of a topic that they hope to devote their lives to, but also allowed them to share that understanding and passion with people from all over the world. It has opened opportunities to collaborate across countries and communities with others who are similarly excited about empowerment and community health. The opportunity and conversations that have come from these connections have reignited the spark that inspired them to begin this work in the first place. As they look ahead to what the future holds, they will strive to remember what participating in this competition has taught them: that focusing on amplifying voices and supporting community-lead efforts is the only way to truly achieve systemic change.

Authors: Annie Kuster and Sara Surani

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Map the System: Youth Suicide Crisis in India

On 15-17 June 2020, the Skoll Centre’s Map the System Competition held its Global Final virtually. The team from Amani Institute competed against 30 other finalists from institutions around the world. Team members Bhairavi Prakash, Maya Narayan, Anshul Agrawal, Neeraja Kulkarni and Tushara Ravindranath tell us how they mapped the system for addressing youth suicide crisis in India.

In February this year, when India had still not experienced the gravity of the COVID19 pandemic, five of us got together and decided to participate in the Map the System 2020 challenge. Although we come from diverse backgrounds, Bhairavi (Psychology), Anshul and Maya (Systems Thinking), Neeraja (Design Thinking) and Tushara (Academic Research), the common thread which connects us together is that we are all young professionals who have spent at least two decades of our lives, being a part of the Indian education system, and have been witness to some of the challenges it exposes students to. The situation has only gotten from bad to worse in the past decade, where roughly one Indian student dies by suicide every hour. Given the alarming rate of deaths by suicide among Indian youth, we chose to explore the various factors that contribute to this crisis.

Secondary Research

We undertook extensive literature review and realised that death by suicide is a complex biopsychosocial phenomenon, requiring a multi-sectoral approach for tackling. We particularly looked at Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) as spaces, where psychosocial determinants play out in myriad ways.

Primary Research

We created an online survey (436 student participants) across different HEIs in India to understand this issue. The survey had questions on factors that impacted student wellbeing, and on coping mechanisms that they used to deal with emotional distress. In addition to the survey, we also conducted 10 in-depth interviews of experts working in the fields of education, mental health policy and practice, funding ecosystem, etc.

Following were the findings from our research:

  1. Complex bio-psycho-social factors can contribute to emotional distress, which can lead to death by suicide.
  2. Young people are open about their struggles with mental health, however, usage of services is low.
  3. Deaths by suicide are found across the spectrum of HEIs in India, not just engineering and medical institutions.
  4. There are barriers to both seeking and providing help, which widens the treatment gap among young people.

Problem Landscape

We used system mapping tools to further analyse the data collected. We identified four major systems that interact to have an impact on one’s mental wellbeing. Interconnections between these systems, further exacerbate the challenges faced by youth, affecting their mental wellbeing.

We also classified the existing solutions in three categories: Knowledge and Awareness, Services and Skills.

Shifting the Burden Archetype

Analysing the current solutions landscape, we found an overwhelming focus on short-term remedial solutions that are easier to formulate and less expensive. This consequently, acts as a barrier to implementing restorative solutions that address the root causes and could have a long-term impact on reducing emotional distress.

Gaps & Levers

We observed multiple political, social, cultural, and economic factors, possibly acting as tipping points that contribute to suicidal ideation amongst young people. Based on these factors, we identified four overarching gaps in the system and 22 levers for systemic change.

Key Learnings from Systems Mapping

  1. Deaths by suicide are symptomatic of larger structural and systemic challenges and completely preventable.
  2. Preventive interventions for youth suicide need to be prioritised in schools, colleges, families, communities, and society at large.
  3. Contextualisation and scalability are important factors for proper understanding of the problem space, and require adequate human and financial capital.
  4. Visualisation of the system by diverse stakeholders can help build a comprehensive narrative that is key to determine the success of interventions.

Way Forward

Being one among the top 31 global finalists at Map the System 2020, was a wonderful opportunity to connect with systems thinkers across the globe, and learn about the complex problems they are working upon.

To further our study and alleviate this challenge, we have applied for a Think Tank Grant. Our goal is to organise an immersive conference and introduce contemplative practices (traditional forms including yoga and meditation, and expressive forms including art, theatre, and movement therapy) for building resilience and emotional regulation in young people.

Mapping the System to address sexual assault in New Delhi

On Sunday, 9 June 2019, the Skoll Centre’s Map the System Competition held its Global Final in Oxford for another year. Making it to the final six teams out of 20 overall finalists, the University of Oxford team, No Means No, took 2nd place, winning £3,000 in cash prize money. But the money and the prestige of being in the top three winners only came 2nd to the incredible journey of learning and discovery this team of five Indian students, four of which were Oxford MBAs.

Oxford MBA 2018-19, Prerna Choudhury and teammate and Duke University Sandford School of Public Policy alumna, Tanmayata Bansal, tell us how they mapped the system of gender-based violence in New Delhi, India.

In early January, we came together as a team with a common thread that is unfortunately part of the lived narrative of most Indian women—we all had either been victims of sexual assault or known someone close to us who had. In 2012, the brutal gang rape and death of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh brought the city of New Delhi to the forefront. Seven years later, Jyoti’s parents, who have now turned activists feel that change has not occurred and that justice in India has failed Jyoti and women like her.

Not only were we frustrated by the lack of progress made to address the problem in our country, but we were also passionate about wanting to be a part of the change. Map the System offered a public platform for us to break the societal taboo we had dealt with our whole lives, using the lens of systems thinking, which was particularly relevant to a problem as complex as ours that involved a diverse range of stakeholders and was multi-faceted in its contributing causes and solutions.

We conducted extensive primary and secondary research to help us map stakeholders and develop a narrative illustrating the interplay between these stakeholders. This ongoing interplay contributes to perpetuating sexual assault against women in New Delhi. We read news articles, op-eds, reports, and academic literature to help us understand the history and quantify the extent of the issue. We identified 20 distinct stakeholders that were either experiencing, contributing to, or trying to prevent the problem.

The second phase included primary research which included 31 interviews across our stakeholder spectrum. We started by reaching out to our internal network and gradually progressed to sending out cold emails. We received an overwhelming response to our cold emails, which further strengthened our belief that the issue needs to be discussed on a visible platform.

These interviews further tied to our secondary research and gave us nuanced perspectives on the issue. The process also contributed to our final systems map which underwent multiple iterations – from a linear process map, to a rather convoluted and more accurate depiction of the problem and aspects related to it.

So what were our findings? We’ve outlined and synthesized our research and findings:

Solutions

Widespread change can only be achieved if the city of New Delhi implements a concerted city-level strategy that targets solutions in education, policy, law, technology, and infrastructure:

  • Education: All our interviewees advocated for education as key to fostering long-term change in mindset. Solutions targeting education taking the longest to make an impact but yield the highest probability of bringing about a paradigm shift.
  • Policy: Implementation and enforcement of policies takes time and is key to success.
  • Law: A comprehensive legal structure already exists in India to deal with crimes of sexual assault. Reform should focus on expedition, reduction of errors, and placing the victim at the center of the case.
  • Technology: Use of mobile phone apps and SOS emergency lines have provided women with an avenue to report sexual harassment. Social media campaigns have also enabled stigma reduction.
  • Infrastructure: Physical infrastructure such as lighting, or social infrastructure such as networks help reduce the incidence of sexual assault.
Tanmayata Bansal wit her team mates at the Global Final of the Map the System
Tanmayata Bansal presenting with her teammates at the Global Final of the Map the System competition on Sunday, 9 June.

Gaps & Levers of Change

  • A lack of prioritization and implementation can be addressed by prioritizing gender equality as part of the national agenda through policy changes such as reducing investigation times or portraying women in empowered roles in Bollywood movies.
  • A lack of sensitivity and support is mitigated through the creation of a safe and reliable place for women to fight against assault, achieved through repeated gender sensitization trainings and the building of strong social networks and cohesion among female professionals.
  • Shortfalls in staffing and representation are countered by increasing the agency and representation of women across sectors.
  • A lack of knowledge, awareness and accessibility can be addressed by increasing educators’ awareness of the importance of developing emotional intelligence in students.

Systems Map

Our systems map was divided into three parts:

  • A system that promotes gender equality: A map tracing the way in which gender inequality is deeply entrenched in Indian society and promoted from birth.
  • A system that normalizes sexual assault: A map analyzing the ways society, the political and legal system engage in victim blaming and shaming and enable the attacker through his ability to exercise control through power and bribery.
  • The mental models and underlying structures that support the system such as a deeply entrenched patriarchy, an outdated and rigid educational system, caste system, religious and cultural traditions, weak institutional support, and social stigma.

Download our map here

Image of group photo of team No Means No
From left to right: Tanmayata Bansal, Prerna Choudhury, Sahl Abdus Salam, Neha Sethi and Mridula Vasudevamurthy

Map the System empowered us to speak about a topic that was deeply personal to all of us. Ever since the competition, we noticed programs and campaigns happening in the city of New Delhi increasing awareness on the issue. Most notably, a leading radio station has started a campaign to make Delhi safe, especially at night by creating a sense of responsibility among its residents and urging them to be more vocal and actionable if they witness sexual harassment. We look forward to collaborating with such efforts and disseminate our findings and report among our stakeholders and organizations to take our efforts forward.

Authors: Prerna Choudhury Oxford MBA 2018-19 & Tanmayata Bansal Masters in Public Policy Analysis at Duke University.