Route or Event Mapping

This method begins by envisioning a desired future condition, establishing a short series of goals to reach that vison, defining the main impediments to action, creating a series of strategies to beat each impediment. Once this is done at the concept level, the actual stakeholders - those who will carry out the actions - then map a route to the end state or future vision by listing the actual actions they will carry out and the events that must happen to rech the future state. Each person or group then brings their map to the group. Everyone then works together to define the actions and events that each member of the group can actually carry out to achieve the results. This creates an optimum map to the future in a timed sequence as if you were watching it all unfold.


Mapping is one of a number of methods of approaching wicked problems. The most important aspect of this method is that it is done by the actual people who will ultimately take the actions that you are collectively going to map out. The idea is simple enough. The group begins by collectively establishing a very brief one or two sentence description of the present situation. The statement might be something like this:

“The world is currently experiencing a heat imbalance resulting in an unprecedented increase in temperature since the rise of civilization. This increase in temperature has the potential to create difficult climatic conditions including drought, severe storms, flooding, and ice melt that will raise the sea level by several metres.”

The next step is very important but not as difficult as it might seem. Again working collectively the group sets out a vision of the future that everyone agrees they want to achieve. In the context of global warming, the vision might be something like this:

“Our vision for the climate is of a world with a benign temperature regime to enable society to flourish with minimum stress.”

Because the vision is stated in a way that is non-confrontational, does not specify any technology or mechanisms, it is a vision that allows any group of people to agree is desirable. Sometimes it is useful to set a goal that establishes a way to set milestones. It might be something like this:

“Our goal is to develop practical, integrated global strategies to best cope with the complex problem of climate change.”

One of the problems associated with any change is avoiding making things worse during the transition. To help guide us, this mapping technique also sets out a value statement, such as:

“During the transition, the world’s mantra should be, as much as possible, to do no harm, to maintain human dignity, health, economic welfare, and to the extent reasonable, to safeguard existing lifestyles and economic stability for the general public.”

At this stage we know that the current situation is not good. We also know what would be a good situation, and we have agreed we want to get there without making a mess along the way.

Next we need to describe the factors that are preventing us from expecting the future to be a world with a benign climate. Often it is useful to break them down into categories such as: 1) Human Understanding and Commitment, 2) Economic Impacts and Priorities, and 3) Political Processes and Policies.

Under each of these titles, there might be some examples of the impediments such as:

Human Understanding and Commitment

  • Making sacrifices
  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Personal stresses and priorities
  • Not immediately dangerous

Economic Impacts and Priorities

  • Difficult Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Heavy Investment in Fossil Fuels
  • Incentives for Clean Energy Lacking
  • Business Equals the Bottom Line

Political Processes and Policies

  • Political Inertia
  • Ideological Resistance
  • Disinformation  Campaigns

Remembering our value statement, what we decide to do next needs to 1) advance civilization, prosperity, and happiness, 2) avoid conflict, chaos and destruction, and 3) be economically, culturally, and ideologically feasible.

I am just going to stop for a moment to remind ourselves that global warming is first of all global - so it is a huge problem. Secondly it is complicated in the extreme with many dimensions of issues, many of which have nothing to do with technology. Thirdly the issues shift and morph as attempts are made to implement solutions because people react to the changes. Finally, no amount of expert opinion will alone lead to any action. The only people who can take action are those that have the economic strength, decision-making authority, independent capacity or political will to do something concrete.

This essentially defines who is on the team - the stakeholders. But no single group can take on everything, so the bits and pieces of global warming that any one group tackles depends entirely on who you are and what you have as tools. The stakeholders involved can range from a family decision to a gathering of the economic giants of the world. The scope can be as small as a family decision or as large as setting the business plan into action to transition from a carbon rich fuel to a carbon free fuel. The team can also be a community or a nation, a farm association or a church group. The impediments to action are yours to figure out and define, but the list above is a good place to start, no matter what scale of a project you have in mind.

This is the essence of mapping. The “maps” can be of events, or actions, or record of a dialogue. Dialogue mapping is often used as a way to get agreement on goals, issues, strategies and actions. These can be a preliminary step along the way to another type of mapping: event mapping.

Event mapping is more directly applicable to taking action. It recognizes that there may be more than one way to resolve the issues and get some action underway. There is no attempt to define the problem as a step required to move forward. Instead once the impediments and goals have been decided, the various participants (either individually or as small groups) figure out, sometimes intuitively, sometimes as a group think, what the end result or end state might look like. Once that is set up as a target, the specific actions and events that would actually have to occur in a realistic world are mapped out threading the way intellectually and realistically through all the messy entanglements until the starting situation and the end result can be linked together and the people who need to make each of the events happen agree that they can pull the event off.

(Those marked with a red X   must not happen, and those with a   gold star must happen. Work backwards and forwards between the desired end result and the Now State to map the events)

(Those marked with a red X must not happen, and those with a gold star must happen. Work backwards and forwards between the desired end result and the Now State to map the events)

The mapping process is used to guide stakeholders through the impediments to a plan that is about to be implemented. Once all of the action plans, like the one illustrated above, are assembled they are integrated so the whole meshes together as well as can be managed to begin with. As we all know, the best laid plans can often slide off to the side a bit, so the process we employ includes monitoring progress and adjusting or adapting to the changes that happen around us - inevitable in a messy problem like global warming.

A schematic flow chart for event mapping

A schematic flow chart for event mapping

When the entire process is lined up it is easy to see the flow of events, but also to appreciate that it is highly flexible and can adapt to a wide array of issues, timing, and interdependencies. This happens in a number of ways.

First, the group assembled creates a vision of the future they wish to achieve, so this is not an absolute truth, it is a self-designed vision.

Second, the goal or goals are also set within the known capabilities and resources that the assembled group can muster - this is not an exercise in theory, it is designed to practical and account for everything from the scientific data, realistic economic factors through to political and social factors.

Third, strategies are built on a combination of the goal(s) and the actual barriers to progress, not on a best or optimum theoretical choice of solutions.

Fourth, each sub-group works out several possible ways including specific events that must (or must not) happen along the way to achieve the “end-state.” Depending on the nature of the issue our focus group strategies may already have set up a theoretical best or optimum strategy for a needed technical approach. Because these are actual scheduled events, the logistics for each event must also be defined as part of the planning process. The personnel who will be responsible are assigned the tasks. If the task is complex and requires further analysis, the method we use has several options.First a standard approach using a problem definition and steps can be used, or if that is not workable, the second approach is to use Lean Six Sigma to set up the process.

Lean Six Sigma and Focus Group Analysis are integrated into Event Mapping

Lean Six Sigma and Focus Group Analysis are integrated into Event Mapping

Fifth, once each subgroup has a plan ready, it is brought back to the group as a whole. In a plenary session of mutual discussion, the plans from each group are integrated into a single master plan. The process of master planning may take several styles (discussion and voting, moveable stickers on a board, etc.), but in each style, an iterative and consultative workflow is standard.

Once the master plan is in place, all the events and their attendant logistics have been defined, the personnel assigned and milestones established, implementation begins. As the initiation of implementation takes place, monitoring systems are established to assess the progress toward milestones. In these types of messy wicked problems, it is not unusual to discover that modifications and adjustments need to be made to react to shifting contexts, changes in environmental or economic conditions, or changes in the degree of severity or timing occur. This is to be expected and the teams need to be ready to accept the changes in planning, readjust the milestones, and even in some cases the final result may need adjustment. The main thing is to keep the goal as the ultimate target.