Visualizing Collaboration

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Creating Shared Intentions

The Strategy Roadmap is a way of visualizing strategy that clarifies the purpose of a community or organization. Using this approach, I’ve had the opportunity to work with organizations in all sectors on some of their most daunting challenges. It continues to be amazing — even after 15 years of practicing this approach — how quickly the map emerges, and what it comes to mean to the people who create it.



Diagrams like these are commonly drawn by an analyst. An ‘expert’ holds the pen. People get to see the model when it’s done, or at best have an opportunity to critique the work in progress.

The Strategy Roadmap is different. It emerges organically from a deep dialogue about the future a community wants to create, in a series of conversations led by an experienced facilitator. The facilitator asks open-ended questions about the challenge stakeholders are facing, and the outcomes required to reach a solution. The map is revised between sessions based on transcripts of what participants said in the room.

The facilitator’s role is to create a safe space for authentic dialogue — taking no positions and expressing no opinions. The Roadmap is the creation of the people in the room, produced by and for them.

The conversation evolves from exploring the boundaries of the problem and reflecting on what success would look like, to refining the logic of the model and capturing the group’s intention in carefully worded outcomes. The process is fluid and open, never contentious. Somehow purpose appeals to our better nature, and there is a high level of shared respect among the people in the room.

The conversation tends to evolve as described in William Isaacs’s book Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together — polite at the beginning, then possibly positional but not for long. Participants start to tell stories. One person talks at a time. There are no diversions, no breakout sessions, no flip charts — only dialogue, and sometimes moments of silence as people reflect on what is being said. The room slips gently into another way of being. Very often by the last session the group enters the space William Isaacs’s calls ‘flow,’ where people build easily on each other’s ideas. They may even anticipate each other’s thoughts.

If the challenge involves multiple organizations (and often in the same organization) many of the people in the room may never have met before. As they spend time together to develop the Roadmap they create social capital that will be vital when they come to implement the shared strategy.


The group self-organizes simply and organically through this process — in two ways. First, people internalize the same sense of purpose by creating a shared mental model in the form of the Roadmap. Second, they link their own intentions to specific outcomes in the map. It is revealing to see how the contributions of different stakeholders are distributed across the whole strategy. Sub-groups of stakeholders focus on each outcome. We call this a Contribution Map — a version of the Roadmap that shows how stakeholders work together to create collective impact.



Looking at a Contribution Map, I see birds in flight — the example often used to illustrate self-organization in nature. The Strategy Roadmap helps human systems self-organize based on purpose and intention.

The Contribution Map shown above was developed for a food-security initiative involving 43 community organizations. Each of the dots surrounding the map outcomes (the larger circles) refers to an organization listed on the right.

Philanthropic organizations funding food security initiatives in the community used the Contribution Map to gain a holistic perspective on systemic change, collaboratively redistributing their investments to focus on priorities, reduce duplication, and fill gaps in the collective effort.

This article is an excerpt from a book in progress on collaboration and transformative change. It was first posted on November 7, 2017, on LinkedIn.

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David Forrest

David is the founder of the Integral Strategy Network. He is a writer, futurist, strategist, and facilitator of systemic change.

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