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Build a greater understanding of your problem and the people it impacts.

System map


A diagram that shows how different factors and forces affect a given system. This is unlike journey maps or service blueprints, which visualize specific services.


Mapping complex patterns can help us build consensus and identify opportunities. Maps can also be used to onboard new team members and inform product decisions.

Time required

4-8 hours

How to do it

  1. Choose a sketching app or gather pen and paper.
  2. Identify the problem you want to focus on and the specific questions you want to visualize in a system. For example, what health food options currently exist in a community?
  3. Identify the people affected by this problem. Invite them to engage in the following steps.
  4. Identify data sources to create your system map. Your sources may come from engaging with people most affected by the problem, looking at secondary data, or conducting other qualitative research.
  5. Draw arrows between the different parts of your system to identify how they’re connected.
  6. Reflect on specific areas to examine more closely. What questions come up? What gaps do you see?
  7. Share the map with others and invite them to add to it. Include people affected by the problem, key stakeholders, and subject matter experts.
  8. Update the map as you learn more about the problem.

Additional resources

Considerations for use in government

No PRA implications. Even when users are present, the PRA explicitly exempts direct observation and non-standardized conversation, 5 CFR 1320.3(h)3. If you are not working with government employees, you will need to observe standard precautions for archiving personally identifiable information.


18F Methods

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