Making impact maps is a skill that requires practice. Ideally, the goal for a project is known upfront, so the impact map is developed in order: goal, then actors, then impacts, then deliverables, then experiments.
However, sometimes the goal is initially unclear. Stakeholders may have an easier time describing a solution that could solve their problem than describing the problem itself.
The following two exercises will help form an impact map, regardless of the project’s starting point:
Properly formulating a goal can hinder the work of just diving in and developing an impact map. For this exercise, select a goal from the following list, then make an impact map from that goal.
Step 1: Select a goal
Select a goal from a predefined list.
If conducting this exercise with a group, consider using dot voting to select the goal. In the following examples, a + indicates one vote, and a highlighted item indicates the group’s selection based on the votes.
Step 2: Select actors
Each participant should spend 5 minutes making a list of actors (individuals, groups, or systems). Ask:
Who can help or hinder achieving the goal?
Come together as a group and share the lists. Use dot voting to select one to three actors for the next step.
Step 3: Select impacts
Each participant should spend 5 minutes making a list of impacts (behavior changes) for each of the selected actors in Step 2. Ask:
What should the actors do or not do to impact the goal?
Come together as a group and share the lists. Use dot voting to select one to three impacts for the next step.
Step 4: Select deliverables
Each participant should spend 5 minutes making a list of deliverables (solutions) for each of the selected impacts in Step 3. Ask:
How will you help the actors make the intended impact?
Come together as a group and share the lists. Use dot voting to select one to three deliverables for the next step.
Step 5: Select experiments
Each participant should spend 5 minutes making a list of experiments (research or evidence) for each of the selected deliverables in Step 4. Ask:
How can you test whether the deliverable will have the intended impact?
Come together as a group and share the lists. Use dot voting to select one to three experiments for the next step.
Step 6: Compose the impact map
As a group, take the lists in Steps 2 through 5 and compose them as an impact map. This can be in the form of an outline. Order every actor, impact, deliverable, and experiment by how important they are to achieve the goal.
Feel free to later expand, refine, and tweak the impact map as desired. To keep track of the work, append the current status to each deliverable (due date or done date) or experiment (success or failure).
Exercise: Discover the goal
Sometimes the goal is unclear or not well defined at the start of the project. In a roundabout way, the goal can be revealed by starting with a potential deliverable. Once the goal is clear, an impact map can be started which can reveal any number of additional deliverables that support the goal.
Step 1: Select a deliverable
Select a deliverable from a predefined list.
Step 2: Ask why
Take 10 minutes to ask “why” the selected deliverable is worth the investment. Ask it several times to find the underlying motivation.
Step 3: Identify themes
Take 5 minutes to review the “why” responses in Step 2 and identify themes.
Step 4: Explore SMART criteria
Based on the responses in Steps 2 and 3, take 10 minutes to explore different aspects of the SMART criteria: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based.
Step 5: Make a goal
Transform the SMART criteria explored in Step 4 as a goal.
Step 5: Make an impact map
Now, come full circle and make an impact map based on the goal in Step 5. If still relevant, the selected deliverable in Step 1 could be included as a deliverable in this new impact map.
With some structure and prompts, individuals or teams can explore a world of possibilities. With the make an impact map exercise, a goal can lead to an abundance of solutions. With the discover the goal exercise, a vague solution can lead to defining the goal and uncovering even better options.