How MAP-SE was born

Why maps?

Traditionally, cartographers attended to orders placed by specific clients, as one can see in the old maps created by the Portuguese or by the British Empire. Where there was knowledge, icons for tribes were designed, as were those for seas and mountains. Where knowledge was lacking, came in icons for monsters and new symbols. Symbols were invented for that which was yet unknown to men.

Nowadays we face almost the opposite problem. We have the need to give meaning to an enormous flux of information. Moreover, we need to do that using, as much as possible, the intelligence of collectives of people.

How our interest began?

In 2005 we experienced a concrete situation at SENAC. The corporation defined the quality policies. But how was it put them into practice in each one of the 80 SENAC branches and what parts of the policies made sense in each branch, some with up to 80 employees and others with only 5 of them? The strategy was to build a map that allowed people to see how exactly quality was developed in the different locations. The drawing of these maps by employees from the branches opened up the dialogue about the practices that would really make sense for the different activities that SENAC developed in the state of São Paulo. The maps also allowed us to put together people with similar problems and to place side by side those who could learn from each other. The drawing of the maps brought people to an environment of open dialogue.

Although the experience with SENAC wasn’t yet called MAP-se, it was a definite breakthrough as it brought about the understanding of how people got engaged with the work with maps.

Strategic maps as a starting point

The MAP-SE also draws influence from strategic maps. Throughout Dobra’s history we have developed many of those. They are always a projection, but rarely are created collaboratively. Traditional strategic maps are tools for knowledge distribution and for engagement, but not a resource to materialize and gather knowledge from the collective. This is the MAP-SE differential: we believe it to be possible to activate the intelligence of the various actors around a problem but not only to solve it, also to enhance perception of the “terrain, to identify the resources that are present, to raise points of view and to accelerate the search for solutions.

MAP-SE comes to answer the question: how can we use collectively drawn maps to solve systemic problems? And how can we do that in a fun way and in a way that facilitate dialogues about complex problems such as sustainability, strategy or the engagement of stakeholders?


Another starting point for MAP-SE was the systemic map, as it is paramount in multi-stakeholder innovation processes: those in which the problems are shared among many actors and therefore lots of them need to be engaged in the solution. A good systemic map pictures lots of variables simultaneously, brings to the fore that which is more profound and helps to understand what are the roots to those problems. With MAP-SE we feed this understanding with information that was mapped from the network of people relevant to a problem or context.   The information may be about the network of relationships around a common theme or even about narratives, about how people talk about what is happening.   A deeper understanding of the system is achieved when quality information is collectively extracted from the maps.

To create together generates engagement

One key point of MAP-SE is to generate deals, agreements among the participants by putting them together to create. As people talk and draw the maps, it becomes clear what the goals are, whether it should focus on a specific type of knowledge or whether a broader terrain should be mapped. This is when MAP-SE’s design elements come into play: icons and templates of what was discussed are offered so the group of participants can paint a picture of what has been discusses. In that sense everyone becomes a cartographer, everyone becomes an author of that vision of the problem’s terrain. The engagement of the participants is stimulated for they feel represented during a MAP-SE session.

Contribution for leadership

From the point of view of leaders, MAP-SE brings about two key contributions. It is possible to make more quality decisions by combining institutional directives with the knowledge that comes from the base, brought by the people who work in the front line. This process enables the leader to clarify points yet obscured and to redefine priorities. At the same time, strategic decisions can be intertwined with the terrain that was collectively mapped. Thus there is a common ground of understanding that gives meaning to what is being proposed as a decision.


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