Participatory Systems Mapping

Key information

Start date:
To be confirmed

Contact details:


Many issues in the social world involve the interaction of multiple factors from different domains which may be difficult or impossible to quantify. Often knowledge about an issue will be distributed between different types of stakeholders, who may not communicate meaningfully. Successful interventions or management in these circumstances require collaboratively generated whole system understanding.

This course will introduce you to participatory systems mapping methodology, which allows researchers to bring together diverse knowledge and stakeholders in order to construct shared causal maps of an issue or system. You will find out about the theory behind, and analytical approaches to, systems maps, and will build a map of your own. Time will also be given to considering the wider value and use of participatory modelling approaches such as systems mapping.

Workshops will be focused on constructing and refining maps of areas of personal interest, with short lectures dotted throughout on background, approaches to analysis, and participatory modelling. The group construction of the map will also be interspersed with group reflection sessions considering the inter-subjective process of participatory causal mapping. These will allow you to develop your understanding and ability to construct, or facilitate the construction of, effective maps, and gain an understanding of group dynamics during participatory processes and how these might impact on models produced.

This course is has been developed by researchers from the Centre for Research in Social Simulation and the Centre for the Evaluation of Complexity Across the Nexus.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a critical understanding of the ideas behind systems mapping (C and K)
  • Build a map on their own (C and P)
  • Facilitate a group to build a map (C, P and T)
  • Be able to analyse and interpret maps (C, K and P)
  • Understand the definition of systems mapping and related approaches, the contexts in which it can be used and how it fits in relation to other social research methods and modelling approaches (C and K)
  • Be able to critically engage with existing research using this and similar methods (C and T)
  • Use a range of analysis methods which you can deploy on maps as appropriate (C and K)
  • Critically reflect on the approach, its strengths, weaknesses and value in different areas of social research, practice, and policy (C and P)
  • Reflect more broadly on the use and value of participatory modelling approaches (P)


KSubject knowledge
PProfessional/practical skills
TTransferable skills

Course content

This course will give a thorough grounding in how and where to use systems mapping approaches, develop practical skills and encourage critical reflection.

Indicative content includes:

  • Theory
    • Background on fuzzy cognitive mapping, causal mapping, and dependency modelling approaches.
    • Analysis approaches (including simple dynamic modelling, network analysis, map interpretation for scenario exploration and intervention design combining quantitative analysis and stakeholder beliefs) and their strengths and weaknesses.
    • Broader consideration of the use and value of participatory modelling.
  • Model construction
    • Practical skills and tools to build, verify and refine a systems map alone or in a group.

Practical workshops will provide you with experience of:

  • Building, verifying and refining a map of an area of students’ interest, alone or in a group.
  • Reflection on the facilitation process.
  • Observation of, and reflection on, group dynamics during model construction.
  • Preliminary observation and discussion of map structure and potential implications.

Learning and teaching methods

  • Lectures
  • Practical workshops

Course leader

Pete Barbrook-Johnson profile image

Dr Peter Barbrook-Johnson

Senior Research Fellow (UKRI Innovation Fellow)

Course contributor

Alexandra (Alex) Penn profile image

Dr Alex Penn

Senior Research Fellow

Reading list

Class size

Maximum of 25 people. Please note, 10 participants will be students from our MSc Social Research Methods course.

Entry requirements

There are no formal entry requirements for this course.

Fees and funding

Fees are to be confirmed

How to apply

Applications for this course are currently closed.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and following the latest advice from the government relating to large gatherings, we have taken the decision to cancel future dates for this course, until further notice. Those who have registered for this course will be contacted directly regarding refunds. Please bear with us as this may take up to 14 working days to process. We apologise for any disappointment or inconvenience caused.

Register your interest

Terms and conditions

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Further details of our terms and conditions will follow.


This online prospectus has been prepared and published in advance of the commencement of the course. The University of Surrey has used its reasonable efforts to ensure that the information is accurate at the time of publishing, but changes (for example to course content or additional costs) may occur given the interval between publishing and commencement of the course. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply for a course with us. Read the full disclaimer.

Course location and contact details

Campus location

Stag Hill

Stag Hill is the University's main campus and where the majority of our courses are taught. 


University of Surrey
Surrey GU2 7XH