Systems Mapping Tools & Design Levers

Ketut Sulistyawati
Somia CX Thoughts
Published in
7 min readOct 13, 2023

This is the fourth article of Systems Thinking in Design, a publication by Somia CX. In the previous three articles, we unpacked the whats and whys of systems thinking, and a framework to embed systems thinking into the design thinking process. This article covers some of the systems mapping tools, leverage points, and design levers.

Tools to Map A System

There are many tools available to map a system. We have chosen three of them to illustrate and cover in detail here. These tools are taken from IDEO U’s Human-Centered Systems Thinking, with some adjustment from our experience and past work.

1. Network Map

Use this mapping to visualize and understand the interconnections between stakeholders in a system.


  1. Frame the system by selecting a boundary
  2. Select a focal point (who is in the center of this map)
  3. Identify the stakeholders
  4. Select a lens (what relationship to look at, eg., information, money)
  5. Draw the connections

When making the map, look out for:

  • Where does power reside in the system?
  • Which stakeholders have the most influence?
  • What are the patterns of relationships? Where are the gaps?
Network Map of Children’s Dental Health

For example in a Pediatric Dental Health case, we mapped the children as the focal point, surrounded by the stakeholders who are in a way related to them in this topic. When we map this, we can see where the power resides — the parents, school, and entertainment. We could also see that the dentist and pediatrician have little to no interaction. By mapping the system beyond the children, parents, and dentist, we could see in a bigger picture how seemingly non-obvious stakeholders, such as the doctor’s association or insurance provider may also influence the children’s dental care.

2. Iceberg Map

Use this mapping to visualize and understand the root causes and examine the layers underlying a complex problem.


  1. Look for observable events / behavior
  2. Identify patterns of these events / behavior
  3. Ask why to uncover structures that influence the patterns
  4. Ask why again to surface the underlying mental models / mindsets / beliefs

When doing the map, look out for:

  • Is the problem a chronic occurrence, not a one-time event?
  • Any particular factor that has a big influence on making the problem occur?
  • What’s the fundamental belief that makes the problem happen in the first place
Iceberg Map of Children’s Dental Health

Following the case of pediatric dental health, by going deeper to uncover the root cause of why children are scared to go to the dentist, we could learn that their first experience tends to be painful because they only go to the dentist when there is a tooth problem. Parents don’t bring children regularly to visit the dentist because of the perception that dentists are expensive (and often not covered by insurance / BPJS), and more importantly, because they don’t think it is necessary (unlike vaccinations). By mapping the problem beyond what is seen on the surface, we may be able to uncover new areas for intervention that potentially have higher leverage.

3. Journey Map

Use this mapping to visualize and understand the interdependencies between different stakeholder journeys in a complex process.


  1. Pick the journey you want to visualize
  2. Identify key stakeholders
  3. For each stakeholder, create a journey map
  4. Align the journeys across stakeholders
  5. Identify interaction points, interdependencies, handoffs, and gaps between their journeys

When doing the map, look out for:

  • What are the overlaps or common touch points?
  • Where are the gaps or parts that are siloed or missing steps?
  • Are there parts where stakeholders should have visibility but don’t?
Journey Map of B2B Service Delivery

In our past project for a B2B service, the client initially hypothesized the need for a digital touch point to improve communication with customers to improve their experience. However, when we interviewed the customers, we discovered that their biggest problem was the long waiting time between the time they signed the contract to the time they could actively use the solution. As we mapped the customer journey and the internal processes, we discovered several processes that cause delays and roadblocks, for various reasons such as — unclear handover across divisions, unreliable IT solution, to unnecessary bureaucracy that prioritize audit over speed. With the mapping, it becomes clear what are the sources of the poor experiences felt by the customers. The mapping also helps different stakeholders in the organization to visualize the interdependencies between divisions and to work together to come up with solutions.

More tools

Here are other references for more systems mapping tools to explore:

Leverage Points (Where) — Places to Intervene in a System

A leverage point is a place within the system where a small change can make a big impact, relative to the amount of effort required. Leverage points are often not obvious, and can be at a totally different place to where the original problem is spotted. There is no specific formula to finding a leverage point — it requires some intuition, and some trials and errors, but with experience and a deep understanding of the system, it is not impossible to do.

We can start by looking at the map of the system. For example:

  • In the stakeholder map, look for gaps or hotspots of influence, where we can foster new interactions and relationships as leverage points.
  • In the journey map, look for places where the process is being slowed down or blocked, or a process upstream that we can intervene.
  • In the iceberg map, look for underlying structures and mindsets, as the more powerful leverage points are usually closer to the underlying root causes.
Potential leverage points in pediatric dental care

For example, referring to the previous pediatric dental care case, we could identify several potential leverage points. The obvious one would be parents as they have a high influence over the children’s behavior. The less obvious ones are pediatricians or Posyandu. What if we make dentist visits a must-have regular check, just like how parents regularly bring their children to a pediatrician or Posyandu for vaccination?

Another powerful leverage point is early in the journey before the children have problems with their teeth in the first place. Let’s say we identify the leverage point is building good oral hygiene habits as a preventative measure. Improving the oral hygiene habits of children can prevent the most common problem such as tooth decay or dental caries.

Considering the system, we have reframed our problem from “How might we make children’s dentist experience less traumatizing?” to
→ “How might we promote better oral hygiene for children?

“The best thing that can be done to a problem is to solve it. False. The best thing that can be done to a problem is to dissolve it, to redesign the entity that has it or its environment so as to eliminate the problem.” — Russel Ackoff

Design Levers (How)

After choosing several leverage points, we can then brainstorm solutions for intervention. Donella Meadows — the author of Thinking in Systems — listed 12 places to intervene in a system, Jay Galbraith developed The Star Model that covers 5 design levers to influence employee behaviors, and IDEO U’s Human-Centered Systems Thinking covered 6 common levers that influence behavior within organizations.

Donella Meadows’ 12 leverage points for a system. Image Source

From these inspirations, here are 6 design levers that we think are worth exploring and would be a good starting point to look at:

  1. Goals & strategy — aligning the system around a common direction
  2. Organizational structures — determining the placement of power and authority in the organization
  3. Rules & incentives — motivating people and aligning employee’s behavior with the goals of the organization
  4. People — growing the right mix of mindsets and skills, through recruitment, selection, training, and development
  5. Process — adjusting the flow of activities and information
  6. Tools & infrastructure — nudging behaviors through shared tools

Let’s apply this to the previous design challenge “How might we promote better oral hygiene for children?

Ideas generated for pediatric dental care

We could use different design levers and brainstorm many ideas to intervene in the system. We could then prioritize these ideas based on their feasibility to implement and their potential impact.

In the next article, we will cover some of the key systems thinking mindsets that are useful to help us look at problems differently. Don’t forget to follow us at Somia CX Medium to be the first one to know when we release the next articles!

If you are interested in learning more about how some organizations have used Systems Thinking approach to solve complex problems, from the area of financial inclusion, digital healthcare, to policy making, from human systems to tech perspectives, let’s hear directly from our curated speakers!

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Sulis is a director and principal consultant at Somia CX. I sometimes write about my reflections on experience design, research, and general life here. Let’s connect on Linkedin 👋