Translating System’s Thinking into Systemic Support Programs: strategy map

September 14, 2010 | Adrian Gnägi | Learning Elsewhere, Methods & Tools |


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Adrian picture for sdclanBy Adrian Gnägi
I had a beer with a friend a few days ago. He was upset with one of the projects in his portfolio and had to spit his frustration out:

  • The project manager is an agronomist by training. He does his best. But since the project is to support the development of municipalities, he is on a very steep learning curve.
  • The project management team was planned with 4 professionals. Since some of the funding proposals were turned down by donors, the partner organization only recruited 2 staff. They did not adapt the activity plan, though, so staff are constantly overstretched.
  • And so on: the IT system is not working properly and project staff therefore cannot access guidelines and templates in head office, the desk officer is on maternity leave and the project team therefore is cut off from advice and governance, the project was conceived without Government consultation and therefore is not integrated into the national dynamic, the partner organization is new in the country and therefore has no allies yet etc etc..

 Bad, really bad. Not entirely unfamiliar, though. But what really left me speechless was my friend’s conclusion: “I will make sure this agronomist is put through an at least 5 day project management training next year”.

 This surely is an extreme case. I have seen similar reactions frequently, though: people do a through analysis of system’s dynamics and then come up with the crudest linear intervention proposal possible. Most project proposals I come accross in fact are a simple combination of partner activity funding, training and technical assistance. Why is this happening? Sometimes the diagnosis is stupidity, sometimes conspiration theories are invoked, sometimes bureaucratic regulations are blamed. I think there is an additional explanatory element: most of us have been thoroughly trained at university in system’s analysis, but we have learned to design support programs on the job. Our action repertoires for analysis and for intervention are unequally developed.

 Outcome Mapping includes a simple instrument to address the frequent action repertoire limitations for systemic interventions. It is called “strategy map”. A strategy map basically is a list of action options (stratagems), divided into six categories: causal, persuasive and supporting stratagems, aimed either at partners or at their environment. The strategy map instrument has many fascinating facets, like:

  • Partners and their environments are treated as potential fields of intervention on the same level, thereby organically facilitating system’s thinking
  • The strategy map can be exemplifies for different use contexts; we recently drew up one for supporting partners, and one for advisory processes
  • The strategy map is a great support tool for difficult program negotiation processes with vested interests, since it stimulates finding outside-the-box solutions
  • The strategy map allows to design change programs for partners with whom one cannot engage directly, for example spoilers in conflict situations
  • The strategy map can be used as an instrument to translate theories of change (see my recent blog post) into support programs for change.

Sarah Earl, Fred Carden & Terry Smutylo, 2001; Outcome Mapping. Building Learning and Reflection into Development Programs. Ottawa (IDRC)

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