Affinity process - mapping systems causal loop diagrams

In the last blog we talked about how systems thinking is a powerful way of leaders being able to make sense of complex and complicated processes in organisations.  In this blog we will work through a process that we have used with organisations to map factors and connections in organisations - thereby being able to select influential leverage points and prioritise annual goals.  

The first step in a systems thinking process is to clarify the key question that the process is wanting to find answers for.  For example, organisations we have worked with have focussed on; 

  • What factors influence youth health across our city - Christchurch?
  • How can our school increase the achievement of our students? 
  • What are the indicators of a successful international school in Africa?

Professor Kambiz Maani - a renown expert in systems thinking from University of Queensland advocates the following 4 steps;

  1. Identify events - Brainstorm key events that have occurred in the context that we are exploring.
  2. Recognise patterns - Discuss what trends we have noticed that have changed over time
  3. Map systemic structure - Identify factors that influence the question being explored and map connections of influence between them (using affinity process below for example)  
  4. Explore mental models - Reflect on the assumptions that the organisation and individual leaders are making and their impact on the outcomes in question.

The slide below shows a brainstorm sheet of a steps 1 and 2; 

The affinity process begins with each participant individually listing factors that they believe influence the question being explored.   Small groups then group similar factors and then work backwards from the outcome that being sought by repeatedly asking the question - "What directly influences that?" and then working backwards again; "What directly influences that?"

Small group diagrams above are then shared with other groups diagrams and finally a collective diagram is created based on all the groups perspectives 

At this stage a.....participants can now explore identifying areas of leverage.   These are factors on the diagram which have the most potential for change - they are not necessarily the most powerful factors - the key criteria is that they need to be factors that be influenced.  

These leverage points now form the basis of strategic actions - these can be elaborated into action plans with clear tasks, roles and time frames.  


  1. Hi, try to use some templates in future, like this for example. Your diagrams would be more visually attractive.

  2. Nice to be visiting your blog again, it has been months for me. Well this article that i've been waited for so long. I need this article to complete my assignment in the college, and it has same topic with your article. Thanks, great share.


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