Submission Guidelines

The format of Map the System is designed to help you produce high quality, accessible research on critical social and environmental problems.

Begin your research by deeply exploring an issue you care about. You will use systems thinking and mapping as tools for understanding your chosen topic.


Tips for Selecting Your Topic

* Start from what you are passionate about. Choosing a topic that gets you fired up is likely to make the process much more interesting and fun. Ask yourself, “Where are my interests? Are there any topics I have been eager to learn more about? Is there an issue area I would like to dive into, and perhaps work in some day, which I could use this opportunity to explore?”

* Local or global? The challenge you focus on can be global or local. You can pick an issue in your local community, or one that impacts people around the world. Picking a topic you are more familiar with, or one which impacts people in your local area, is a good place to start as it means you will be more likely to find people to interview and learn from – but proximity to the problem is not a requirement.

* Consider your access to knowledge on the subject. Ask yourself, “Where do I have access to data and lived expertise?” The more you already know about a challenge, or the more access you have to those with lived expertise who might join you in this learning journey, the more likely you are to dig below the surface of the challenge.

* Narrow it down. Once you have chosen your topic, begin to narrow it down; this could be around a region or demographic, or a particular manifestation of the problem. The topic you focus on should be wide enough in scope that you can interview and learn from a range of people working on the topic, but not so wide that it seems all-encompassing. For example, “economic poverty in the Democratic Republic of Congo” would be too wide, because “economic poverty” has too many root causes to explore in the timeline of this competition. One might start by mapping out some high level causes of economic poverty and then seeing which of those areas seem the most interesting or easiest to research given your time frame/research access. For example, if one of your team members is studying education, you might look at “education challenges in refugee camps” in the region. In your report, you could still state that economic poverty alleviation is your key area of interest, and then explain why you decided to focus on this specific area of research as well as how it fits into the macro picture of economic poverty issue.

* Think about time allocation. The best submissions will be thorough and describe gaps and opportunities in the current solutions landscape. After you begin your research, ensure that you can do a thorough analysis in the time available. If you can’t, narrow your topic further!

* Geographic specificity. While some problems are indeed universal, how they show up in different cultures and geographies can be nuanced. As such, we suggest you focus on a specific geography, ideally one where you have access to data or expertise to help direct your learning. In other words, while teen anxiety and depression may be rampant in many parts of the world, your research is likely to be more robust and useful if you choose a specific country or region of focus. You can still bring the data and learning from experiences in other countries into your research as comparison points, examples of alternate approaches to solutions, etc.

* Think about any ethical considerations. As part of your research, we encourage you to conduct first-person interviews or surveys with those who deeply understand your chosen challenge. If you are intending to do this, you will want to consider any ethical implications this may have, and you will need to find out if your institution requires you to have ethical approval before you begin your research.
Review the Ethical Considerations page which contains a few principles to help you with this.


Key Questions

Every submission should address three important question areas, and be focused on a single issue. Each of these question areas should build upon the previous one.

Understanding the Challenge

What is the issue you are looking to understand? What is its history and what are the social, economic, corporate, environmental, cultural and political forces maintaining the status quo? Who is affected by it? What is the size and scope of the issue? What is the relationship of this problem to other areas of concern or opportunity?

Understanding Existing Solution Efforts

Who is already trying to solve this problem? What are they doing? What efforts have been tried or are being tried? What has worked, what hasn’t? Are any of these efforts linked to one another? What networks & resources exist? What has happened in the past, and what could happen in the future?

Identifying Impact Gaps and Levers of Change

What is missing from the solutions landscape? Are there any market opportunities, missing links or actionable responses? What role do you see for future private, public, and social sector interventions or collaborations? What are the lessons you have learned from researching this issue?


Submission Format

Every submission should address the key question areas listed above and must include the following three components:

1. Visual Map
2. Written Summary of Your Research
3. Bibliography

These three components must be uploaded via an online form, which will be shared with all registered participants, by the Final Submission deadline date.


1. Visual Map

For this competition, you are required to present your findings visually in the form of a system map. The idea is to make your research accessible and dynamic to a wider audience, and to help people comprehend the importance and complexity of your chosen challenge.

What do we mean by a ‘system map’?

– It should be a visualisation which shows how the different parts of the system interact with each other to produce the challenge

– The map should clearly show the relationships between the different parts of the system

– The map should show how the combination of these relationships is giving rise to the particular challenge. So, for example, you’d expect to see how these relationships combine to form feedback loops

– Your map can be submitted in any visual format you like – e.g. PowerPoint, Prezi, PDF, infographic, website, Kumu, Plectica, etc.

– You do not need to map EVERY component of a system – only the ones which are relevant in telling the story related to your chosen area of focus

– You can break down your system map into multiple maps to help tell your story, if you wish

Please see our Resources page for a list of suggested online tools and programmes for creating your visual map.


2. Written Summary of Your Research

Your visualisation should be accompanied by a written summary of your findings – not exceeding 3,000 words, excluding footnotes. This should be submitted as a Word file (.doc or .docx).

While your Visual Map can include text, and the written component can include visuals and tables, the purpose of the Written Summary is to provide a narrative supplement to your visual submission.

What to include in the Written Summary:

– A summary of the main findings of your research in relation to the Key Questions above: Understanding the challenge, Understanding Existing Solutions Efforts, Identifying Impact Gaps and Levers for Change

– Reflections on the lessons you/your team have learned throughout the process of your research

– Brief explanation of why you selected your particular challenge and how you went about your research

– Any further detail and reflection you would like to add that has not been included in your visual map


3. Bibliography

You must submit a thorough bibliography that cites the sources you have consulted in your research. The best submissions will include a diverse range of sources and materials, from academic texts and articles to op-eds and first-person interviews.

We recommend the Harvard method for citation, but you may use whichever citation method you are most familiar with.

The bibliography should be submitted as a Word file (.doc or .docx)



Marking Criteria

Judges will be looking for submissions that show a deep understanding of the problem, clearly present the complex web of existing solution efforts, and identify opportunities for impact that build upon lessons already learned:

%  Thoroughness

To truly understand a challenge, you will have to go beyond simple web searches and a casual skim of websites. You will certainly explore the well-known organisations working to tackle your chosen issue, but the best submissions will also identify important but less famous resources and rising stars. Remember, information about programmes under development and challenges organisations have faced are not typically listed on company websites. We encourage you to contact organisations and interview people to find out more. You might want to seek out independent assessments of the organisations in addition to their own claims.

%  Clarity

The best submissions will be interesting to review, easy to follow and presented in a compelling way that invites action. You should imagine that the audience for your presentation is other practitioners interested in entering this field. Ensure that you explain the challenge, define any specialist terms, and limit the use of unnecessary jargon or acronyms.

%  Insight

We reward teams whose submissions go beyond describing the problem and the existing solutions. To stand out, you will explain, for example, how several organisations would benefit from merging; how the sector in question could borrow a service model from another; what key research is missing to fuel change; or how effective government action could eliminate the need for a number of activities altogether. You might also identify a market opportunity and/or the possibility to scale an existing effort through partnerships, franchising, or replication through education. Your overall goal is to provide actionable insights for those currently or wanting to work in this sector.


There are two steps to the Map the System judging process:

Step 1: Review of materials submitted via the Map the System online form (Visual Map, Written Summary, Bibliography). This will be completed by judges at your host institution.

Step 2: Review of presentation and Q&A. This step is only needed if your application is shortlisted to progress to a presentation event (e.g. local selection event at your institution, the Canadian Final, or the Global Final). Your institution will let you know if you are required to put together a presentation.

Ranking will be determined by a combination of these two evaluations, weighted equally:

– Half of the final ranking to be based on the submission materials
– Half of the final ranking to be based on the presentation and Q&A

If your institution is not holding a local presentation event, then the evaluation of the submission materials (Step 1) will serve as the final evaluation from which your institution’s winning team will be selected.

Click the links below to view or download the detailed Evaluation Criteria Scorecards that the judges will use to mark submissions:

Map the System 2019 SUBMISSION MATERIALS Evaluation Criteria Scorecard (Step 1)

Map the System 2019 PRESENTATION AND Q&A Evaluation Criteria Scorecard (Step 2)


Next: See our list of recommended tools & resources to help you prepare your submission:

Resources >>