How change happens

Name of the tool:


What the result will look like:

A map of factors generating change, their effects and the relationships between them

Description of the tool:

This method refers to a facilitated discussion useful in exploring diverse and complex perspectives around a given theme. Participants generate ideas on different factors that influence a change and then they create a visual map of the relationship among different factors: what causes what and how they interact to create change.

The session starts with a short introduction to welcome participants, obtain informed consent, and allow participants to introduce themselves through an icebreaker. Then, using a guiding question (i.e. “What happens during a clown visit?”), participants share their experiences related to the issue discussed. Each individual idea or factor is captured by a second facilitator on sticky notes on a board, and grouped together with similar themes.

While participants take a short break, facilitators check in with each other to reflect on the session so far, as well as continued to organize the stick notes thematically on the board.

After the brake, facilitators help the group to draw connections between sticky notes, drawing arrows between ‘causes’ and the ‘effects’ and create a final moment for reflection and closing.

When it can be used:

It is a method useful to collect and analyse data about the current needs of audiences.

It can serve as a foundation for collaboration. This method helps different individuals explore and understand how others view a specific issue. It uncovers not only perceptions of how the world is, but also what are the driving forces behind it. Systems mapping is often used to explore and shape “mental models,” which are the deep-rooted beliefs that capture how an individual makes sense of the world. The How Change Happens pilot specifically sought to bring together individuals with different perspectives, and this was considered to be a major component of its success. In the future, this activity could be a useful starting point for stakeholders who will be working collaboratively

Who it’s useful for:

The project team / organisation can use the map to understand the point of view of different stakeholders.

The clowns can use the process to create the basis of meaningful collaboration at the start of a co-creation process.

Length of process:

It is one activity, involving a 2 hour session and additional time for preparations and follow-up.

Main features - advantages:

It helps to understand the programme theory of change from frontline stakeholders’ perspectives – which can be different from the programme planners’ perspective.

Main features - disadvantages:

It can be difficult to explain at the onset and may feel intimidating or very different from what is typically done.

Planning and managing this discussion successfully requires a highly skilled facilitator. It is also useful to have a second facilitator assist with the white board.

Guidelines for implementation:

Choose your guiding question
A general framing question results in ample discussion but less depth. Part of a systems mapping activity is to define the boundaries of the system that will be mapped. For the first piloting of the activity, it was considered useful to have a broad question (the system boundary) to ensure there would be sufficient content to discuss. With more experience and planning, in the future similar activities could focus in on areas of particular interest.

Decide if you will do it online or offline.
Systems mapping can be done virtually, with limitations.

Limit the session to 2 hours.
The session should be limited to 2 hours, as it is considered that this was the maximum time that participants would be willing to spend and able to pay attention. Typical systems mapping activities require significantly more time for participants. In addition, due to the limited time and the desire to avoid technical difficulties, the second facilitator took the responsibility of writing sticky notes on the white board and drawing connections, but the method is originally intended for participants to take the lead on these activities.

Tool in practice:

During the ClowNexus project, “How change happens” took the form of an online 2-hour workshop facilitated in the local language to generate ideas on the different factors that influence a change during or after a clowning visit. This provided insight into the potential benefits and impact of healthcare clowning.

Origin of the tool:

This is an adaptation of Systems Mapping. Systems mapping can take a range of formats, from causal loop diagrams that show relational dynamics and systems change across a large number of interconnected factors, to influence mapping that shows the relationships between proximal causes and effects.

You can read more about Systems Mapping here.