Synthesis Maps | Gigamaps

Project status: 
In Development

Gigamaps are rich, information graphic visualizations of complex problems, which typically include both challenges and solutions relevant to a wicked problem. They serve to communicate complex concepts visually for service design, and as descriptive artifacts for presentation in conferences and publications. 

GIGAmaps are particularly effective in representing multi-level social systems such as are common in healthcare – indicating an outer boundary (e.g., national or provincial system), the service networks, agencies and specialized providers within a care context, for example. SFI student teams have also delineated sophisticated dementia journeys, evolution of health equity, and the developmental pathways of childhood obesity.  

The GIGAmap technique was developed by BIrger Sevaldson of the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, who we have collaborated with since 2011 in the development of systemic design methods and the RSD conference series. Observations of the AHO GIGAmap Gallery shows their process develops a strong architectural and descriptive approach to complex projects, which are pursued through studio work using a research through design (RTD) process. The SFI GIGAmaps have been developed in half-term courses guided by design-led field research and extensive secondary source references to build descriptive system maps as a mapping of territory for systemic design of the social systems of concern. We also develop a core systems theory or methodology within the SFI maps as a means of pattern and leverage. Because the process we teach is developed more as a synthesis of evidence and is informed by theory, our process is better considered as a Synthesis Map. (Examples of both are shown and linked.)

A recent Synthesis Map was create by an sLab team for the SSHRC project on Canadian Governance in the Digital Era, and the resulting (reduced) map was printed in the March 2015 issue of Canadian Government Executive. The map draws on both foresight and system thinking models within a horizon scan of trends, values and weak signals for future innovation patterns.

The typical Synthesis Map process requires a small team of graduate research assistants trained in the method, coordinated by a faculty advisor (Peter Jones) working on a series of drafts on paper and electronic modes, starting with a preliminary map, a series of “interactive” sketches made during the meeting, and a refinement and preparing a final system map version in studio and discussions with sponsoring team advisors.

A series of coursework examples are presented from project work completed in the Systemic Design courses from 2013-2015.

The Biomimetic Economy map (copyright Ryan Church, Ksenia Benifand, Nihal Ahmed, 2014) was an integration of biomimicy principles for economic foresight following natural succession principles reflected in the Panarchy ecological cycle. They show the evolution from circular economies to steady-state systems, supported by Jane Jacobs, system dynamics models, and an integration of Three Horizons foresight model (as in the Digital Governance map above). The team presented the map and paper at the RSD3 Relating Systems Thinking to Design symposium in Oslo, Oct 2014.


The Student Resilience in Campus Mental Health has been presented at several conferences and mental health discussions, including CACUSS 2014. The team of Sheldon Pereira, Shawn Hewitt , Steven Truong, and Laura MIlls (copyright, 2014) prepared this map with some guidance and expertise from our advisor Andrea Yip with OCADU Health and Wellness Centre service design project.  

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These are just several examples of the dozens of maps produced by student teams in the Systemic Design course and for associated research projects. Please contact Dr. Peter Jones if interested in involving this systemic design method for a collaborative research project. (Note that all works on this page are copyrighted by their authors and are not CC).