The idea of an ecosystem may ring a bell from being referenced in a biology class. More recently the idea of mapping an ecosystem has become mainstream in business settings and social impact cause areas. Let’s take a look at what we mean by mapping an ecosystem and the value of doing the work.
An ecosystem is a complex network or interconnected system that includes multiple stakeholders performing different functions within the system to make it work. The graphic below illustrates the different functions – which enable existence in nature. Animals could not survive without water, food, nutrients, solar radiation and a form of habitat.
The idea of mapping an ecosystem is to look at all the stakeholders that exist in a system. The goal is to better understand who and what it takes for the environment to function and for progress to be made. The mapped information can illuminate the simplicity or complexity, the strengths or risks, and the power dynamics that exist in an ecosystem. Seeing all the stakeholders organized by functions and roles provides the ability to identify gaps, opportunities, and saturation in the system. Essentially, a mapped ecosystem is a data-informed tool that can provide decision makers the knowledge and visibility to decide where to focus (or not to focus) their efforts.
Mapping an ecosystem for a social impact cause area provides several valuable insights for an organization. An ecosystem map can:
- identify where a business can act on identified opportunities to make a difference with the resources they have
- inform if and where a new service provider is needed
- identify where resources might be more effective if used to address gaps within the system, for example focusing on system evaluation or advocacy functions
The ecosystem map provides data that shows where there is an abundance of stakeholder involvement for a cause area as well as identify areas where there is saturation or absence of players in a role or function within the system, either of which can explain the reason for a lack of movement or progress.
An Ecosystem map can be a great first step for companies to evaluate a cause area and generate an action plan for next steps to achieve their objectives. We’ve covered what an ecosystem map is and the value it provides, next we’ll look at how to map an ecosystem and a case study
If you want to discuss how an ecosystem map can help your organization contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.