Research geeking

The main theme of this week has been meeting other researchers from different disciplines to talk about what they’re exploring, learning and contributing the to the wider project that I’m also working in. 

It was the first time I had come across systems mapping, a way to map out the interconnectedness of factors within the social, economic and political ecosystems around a topic of interest. It’s a big field and used a lot in policy development. 

Here’s what I got from it. If you think about ice cream consumption, what factors are involved in decisions to eat an ice cream? Weather is the most obvious. And if the weather gets better, there’s a good chance that ice cream consumption will go up, so that’s a positive connection. 

What else might affect ice cream consumption? How plot them in too: number of flavours, number of children, price, healthy alternatives. The first two are likely to be positive connections but the last two would probably reduce consumption. 

Then you think about what factors influence each of these and how they are interconnected. A healthy eating campaign might increase public demand for healthier options, and tax on sugary foods and availability of milk might affect the price. But public demand might also push pricing down. 

Very quickly gets complicated

You can see it gets very complicated very fast. Kind of blows my mind. But once made, the model is really useful because you can start to ask questions of it. For example – what happens to the outcome (ice cream consumption) if we increase the healthy eating campaign? And we can find the factors with the most connections and identify the one we do control as the biggest opportunity and the one we don’t as the biggest risk. 

In user research we often draw off direct influencing factors from usability issues or constraints in a user’s situation, and we feed them into our insights to help the design team find a solution. But systems mapping might help us identify where other factors might play in and that could shape our research questions and our analysis.

Did I mention I love talking to other researchers? If you do something awesome then give me a shout and let me buy you coffee and learn from you.

Featured image above from

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *