We always look forward to the Oscars – the glamour, the storytelling and the fashion. However, this year something new was in fashion – the acceptance speech that focused less on accolades and more on how we all could do better together. Whether it was women’s rights, civil rights, calling your parents or valuing differences, the Oscar winners showcased what we have recently coined as another word shift for 2015 – “eco-thinking” vs. “ego-thinking.” We have written about this concept many times in our coverage of coopetition, collaboration commandments, and movement building. However, in our experience, as a sector we still focus on how our own organizations can make a difference (i.e., ego-thinking) rather than on the role we can play to best move an issue forward by working together (i.e., eco-thinking). In the past two years, our team has been working hard with some forward-thinking clients and community builders across many sectors (e.g., healthcare, seniors, workforce development) to develop a new methodology – ecosystem mapping – to address this void. We presented it at the U.S. Conference of Mayors last August, and we continue to find it a valuable tool for all social issues.  For a closer look at the methodology behind ecosystem mapping, see our presentation.

Why Ecosystem Mapping?

Ecosystem mapping takes system change to a practical level. It helps you uncover aspirations for the system as well as the ability to identify strengths, gaps and opportunities for collaboration. When completed, it can help with planning, sequencing and prioritization. It allows you to understand the interactions within the system and supports alignment of activities. It can also help funders allocate resources and support joint decision-making.

What is an Ecosystem Map? How do I start?

Like all the best tools, it is a relatively simple process, but requires discipline to execute. One of the best parts of ecosystem mapping is that it is a visual representation of the system, which provides a fresh perspective. To start, it is always best to design the ideal system for a community using best practice research. This step is the difference between asset mapping and ecosystem mapping. Asset mapping typically inventories the existing system. Ecosystem mapping maps both the ideal system and the existing system, allowing for comparison and identification of gaps and opportunities for improvement. Once this is complete, use an inventory to add in organizations providing the services. Finally, analyze the system: what is working? What could work better? Do you have the quality and quantity of services needed?

Why does Ecosystem Mapping work?

In our experience, ecosystem mapping allows those in the social sector to focus less on individual organizations and more on how organizations can engage in eco-thinking, that is, collaborate to create a stronger system. Most importantly, it allows us to comprehensively evaluate the effectiveness of the system for our customers.

This is still a new process, and we welcome your feedback about what you are doing in your community to support eco-thinking. Tune in next week for our guest blog by Michael Wilson on customer engagement.

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