How to map an ecosystem

For some businesses, choosing their social impact cause(s) can be an extension of their business, is selected by their employees, or is identified by another method taking into account a variety of factors. Over time, cause areas shift due to changes in legislation, entry or exit of providers, a change of community needs (demand for action, changes), or a combination of changes in these factors. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement has experienced a swell of stakeholders in the last four weeks.

To increase impact and better understand the landscape, an ecosystem map can provide valuable data to identify players, saturation points, and opportunities for a social impact cause area for your business. If you are interested in learning more about the value of an ecosystem, here is an ecosystem overview.

What is an ecosystem map?

Briefly, an ecosystem is a complex network or interconnected system that includes multiple stakeholders performing different functions to make the system work.  For Prosono and our clients, an ecosystem map can verify, quantify, and validate how to do our social impact work and where it makes the most sense to focus our efforts with the resources we have.

Doing the work of mapping an ecosystem is like building a puzzle, find the corners first, then the edges, and from there put together, or fill in, the picture.

An ecosystem map includes six functions: influence, develop, enable, deliver, consume, and assess. Within each function, there are roles. The roles for each function are in the chart below. To have a healthy, thriving ecosystem and momentum towards progress in a social issue, it’s necessary to have stakeholders in each of the functions and corresponding roles.

Prosono Ecosystem Mapping

Data collection

The functions, roles and definitions (listed in the chart) can help determine where a stakeholder best fits within an ecosystem. Organizations can operate in a single function, or within a couple different functions. Research and validation can help determine, which of those functions and roles where they best fit. We recommend adding a for how effective the stakeholders are in the roles they occupy.

In collecting the data for an ecosystem map, it’s not only valuable for an organization to state they operate in a function and role, it also needs to be validated by a peer or other stakeholders within the ecosystem. Data collection involves secondary research and interviews with thought leaders, practitioners, funders, grantees, and consumers for (in)validation.

The effort to pull the data behind an ecosystem can be labor intensive so one option is to partner with another organization that works in the same social impact cause area to build the data set. Partnering provides collaboration and a different perspective. Keep in mind the stakeholders can be local, regional, national, or global.  As with any research, data collection can be overwhelming feel like it is never ending. Before you start, it is critical to agree on the rules for collecting the data and the determinants for how or why an organization fits in a function and role.

Once the data is collected, create a pivot table to visually represent the ecosystem. Then you can begin analyzing and generating insights. To generate the insights, here are some places to look:

  • Is there a role-to-role or function-to-function relationship that overwhelms the data? A large number of players signifies saturation making it a challenging place for an organization stand out make a difference.
  • Are there functions and roles that have very few or no players? This may be an area for great opportunities to build momentum and make progress.
  • Which functions and roles have the most validated stakeholders? A large number of validated stakeholders means not only does an organization identify that function/role but thought leaders, peers, and practitioners validate the effectiveness of that role/function.
  • Which functions and roles do not have any validated stakeholders? This could be an opportunity to partner with organizations in those areas to elevate the effectiveness of the function or role and thus ecosystem holistically.

To see how the insights can translate visually, look at this case study

The insights are the biggest value of the ecosystem map but they can also be the most daunting to create or see. If you need a thought partner to review, evaluate, question or bring a different perspective to the insight generation phase of the ecosystem map, please reach out to us at prosono@prosono.com.

Remember, an ecosystem map is a visual representation of data and data gets stale over time. We recommend an established and consistent schedule (e.g. annually) to review and reevaluate the data in your ecosystem map to track progress, changes, or consider a change in strategy.