Slides and Script


Make a copy of the Google Slides deck and make changes to meet your community event’s needs:

Connecting the Dots Workshop Materials

Miro template

Learn more about preparing the Miro white board in the Preparation section of the Facilitation Guide.

Causality Mapping Exercise template

Recommended timing

Introductions20 min
Systems Thinking 10130 min
Break #110 min
Group Activity40 min
Break #210 min
Reflections and Next Steps50 min
Total~ 3 hours


The following script is included in notes section of the Google Slides. It is also available as a Google Doc. Make a copy of the script and make changes to meet your community event’s needs.

Slide 1. Connecting the Dots: Systems Thinking for Community Problem Solving.


Hello and welcome to Connecting the Dots, a workshop on Systems Thinking for Community Problem Solving. I want to thank all of you for joining us. 

Today, we’re going to be talking about a way of thinking about the world called Systems Thinking, and how it can help us help each other in more effective and inclusive ways. 

[Note: it is at this point that you should briefly explain how to use the accessibility features of the workshop and describe options for getting help with any technical issues. It is particularly helpful to have an assistant on standby to help participants on the side.]

Slide 2. Agenda. 1, Hello and Introductions. 2, Systems Thinking 101. Break #1. 3, Group activity. Break #2. 4, Reflections and Next Steps.


This workshop is expected to run for three hours with two 10min breaks. 

First, we’ll go through some introductions, get to know each other a little bit. Then we’ll have a short lecture on Systems Thinking and Causality Maps, a type of brainstorming tool used within the framework of Systems Thinking. After that, we’ll take a 10-minute break.

When we come back together, we’ll jump over to Miro where we’ll work together to create a causality map to explore a problem that affects our community, namely [Insert your problem statement here]

After that, we’ll take another 10-minute break. Then, we’ll take some time to reflect on our work, our relationship to the system we’ve mapped out, what opportunities for change we might see, and what next steps we might take.

While we do have a lecture portion, we really want this workshop to be a conversation, so please, use the chat, raise your hand, or speak up with any questions or comments you might have. Of course, you are also welcome to bow out of participating in any of our interactive portions. No one will be called on individually, so you only ever have to opt-in to participate.

Slide 3. Hello and Introductions

Hello and introductions

First, I want to introduce myself and the wonderful people helping to run this workshop. 

[Introduce any assistants and interpreters]

Slide 4. Who am I? Caitlin Gebhard (they/she). M.S. Integrated Design and Media at NYU. Thesis: Community resilience through mutual aid, disability justice, and design.

Who am I?

[Introduce yourself! If you have an image, be sure to describe it for participants who are blind, have low vision, or cannot access the presentation visuals. We have placeholder text below.]

My name is Caitlin Gebhard, and I use they/them and she/her pronouns. I am pursuing my Master’s degree in Integrated Design and Media at NYU, where I am currently finishing my thesis on community resilience through mutual aid, disability justice, and design. 

I have a photo of myself at age 4, a tiny blond child with a big rainbow clown wig making a ridiculous face at the camera.

Slide 5. Hello! What is your name and your pronouns? What do you hope to learn from this workshop?


Now I’m hoping to learn more about all of you. Let’s go around and share our name and pronouns with each other. And I’d like to ask the question, what do you hope to learn from this workshop? 

Who wants to share first?

Slide 6. Systems Thinking 101.

Systems Thinking 101

Wonderful. Now, this will be a pretty brief introduction to Systems Thinking. 

Slide 7. “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Audre Lorde, 1982.

Audre Lorde

As you might suspect from the name, Systems Thinking is something you probably already do, in one way or another, even if you aren’t using any formal tools to do so. 

You are likely familiar with this quote from Black lesbian, writer, and civil rights activist Audre Lorde, spoken in 1982: 

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”

Slide 8. Systems Thinking and Mutual Aid. Community problems are intersectional. The different symptoms we see are interconnected and related to each other within a larger system.
We need to understand the system before we can understand any one problem, let alone try to solve it.

Systems Thinking and Mutual Aid

What Audre Lorde means is that the issues of our times — racism, colonialism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny — do not exist alone, but are intersectional, connected and related to each other within one, big system, because we ourselves are part of that system, affected by all the connections within it. 

We need to have a better understanding of the system before we can understand any one problem that we’re trying to solve, let alone try to solve it in a way that is effective, inclusive, and sustainable.

Slide 9. What is Systems Thinking? Viewing problems from a broad perspective and seeing overall structures, patterns, and cycles, rather than focusing on only specific events in the system.
Systems Thinking helps us: 
understand the patterns driving a symptom; identify the right problem to solve; predict the potential consequences of our interventions

What is systems thinking?

Systems Thinking is a way of taking a step back from a problem and viewing it as only one symptom of a much larger, interconnected set of patterns. Looking at the Big Picture and looking at all the pieces of that picture at the same time.

Systems Thinking is useful in a lot of different fields, from business management to medicine, but in design, we use Systems Thinking to understand the whole world of interrelated causes and the effects behind a particular problem we want to solve. 

Instead of designing a solution for what we think is the problem, systems thinking helps us ask the right questions and find the RIGHT problem to solve.

It also helps us identify interventions that already exist and that are already successful, so that we can design solutions that make them even more effective.

On top of that, having a better understanding of the system surrounding a problem can help us prepare for the consequences of whatever intervention we introduce. 

Slide 10. Tools of a systems thinker. Simple illustrations of systems thinking concepts: interconectedness instead of disconnection,  circular instead of linear, emergence instead of silos, wholes instead of parts, synthesis instead of analysis, relationships instead of isolation.

Tools of a system thinker

Systems thinking requires a shift in perspective from linear to circular, and understanding that everything is interconnected. That’s the core idea. You might be more familiar with this idea in a biological way — when we talk about ecosystems — but it’s also true for pretty much everything. One example is to consider how our everyday actions influence our culture, and in turn, our culture influences our everyday actions. 

In this framework, we also acknowledge that larger things emerge out of smaller parts, that, because everything is interconnected, changes at a local level can ripple outwards and affect the wider system. That’s part of why our community work on the smaller scale is so important.

Slide 11. Causality. Deciphering Cause and Effect
Mapping causality helps us: 
understand relationships between factors; identify larger feedback loops within a system; find opportunities for change. Slide also includes a simple hand-drawn diagram of causality. Arrows connect Problem to Effect, Effect to Cause, and Cause back to Problem in a simple cycle. The cause and effect relationship is circled and labelled as Opportunity for impact.


So, the relationships between the small and the big, the parts and the wholes, the connections between different factors, more often than not, these relationships are feedback loops, when two or more factors influence each other. 

One way to think about feedback loops is in terms of causality — cause and effect. Actions lead to results, which then shape future actions. 

While not all cause-and-effect relationships in a system are direct, circular feedback loops, taking a step back to understand how all the different factors in a system are related and influence each other can help us view the larger feedback loops that might be present.

When we know how different factors influence each other, we can better understand and identify which relationships should be addressed in our interventions, as well as how our interventions might affect our community. 

What is a causality map?

One useful tool for exploring cause and effect relationships in a system is a Causality Map.

This is a brainstorming and visualization tool for thinking through the many different factors that surround complex problems. You can use them both to understand the factors and relationships — the system, you might say — that surrounds the problem, and they’re also useful when trying to communicate all of this information to other people.

When you create these maps collaboratively, with other people who have different experiences and expertise than you do, you can gain a more holistic and inclusive perspective on the issue, which hopefully leads to more inclusive and effective solutions. It’s also important to take a step back and assess your own work, even when you’ve worked with other people to create the map, to find the gaps — the perspectives on the issue or knowledge that might be missing. In this way, these maps can be used to find opportunities for more knowledge gathering as well as opportunities for interventions.

Sticky notes and arrows

Causality maps are basically notes with arrows connecting them. You have your problem statement – a one-liner describing the symptom you want to investigate — and arrows connecting causes of that symptom. More arrows connect the causes of those causes. You also have sticky notes, usually another color, for the effects of that initial symptom, as well as effects of effects. 

Because we can’t be in person to use sticky notes and markers on a big wall, we’re going to use a tool called Miro. Miro is like a big virtual white board, where you can use virtual sticky notes and connect them with arrows. I’ll give you access to our Miro board just before we start the activity, before the break.

Step 1

Here’s how it works. First, we write down a tangible, identifiable problem and articulate it as a short sentence. This is your problem statement. The best way to think about your problem statement is identifying a Symptom. For this example, I could have said something even more specific like, “The lines for COVID-19 testing are very long,” but I wouldn’t want to frame the problem as anything broader than what I have here. For example, if my problem statement was “The U.S. is managing the pandemic poorly,” that statement includes a lot of assumptions we would have to parse before we could identify direct causes. 

In the example here, my problem statement is “People with invisible illnesses don’t get the support they need.” For our activity, we’re going to give you a problem statement to work with.That problem statement goes on a stick in the middle of the board. 

Then, we identify several direct causes of the problem and add them to the board using sticky notes. To think through that first round of root causes, it’s helpful to ask WHY. What are the most concrete factors causing the symptom? Here in our example, we ask, WHY don’t people with invisible illnesses get the support they need? Well, we have four reasons added here (which is certainly not inclusive of ALL factors): Able-bodied people do not believe the experiences of disabled people; Lack of financial resources; lack of transportation to services; asking for help is stigmatized. 

We add arrows connecting each direct cause to the problem statement. You can write as many as you want, but sticking to 4 or 5 specific reasons is a good call. Note that the arrows are pointing FROM the causes TO the result, your problem statement.

Step 2

Then, we ask that same question of WHY about the factors we’ve added to our board to identify the causes of THOSE factors. Why is there a lack of transportation to services that would help people with invisible illnesses? Well, we have three factors on the board for this example: Lack of public transportation, services are distributed and far away, and lack of financial resources, which is ALSO one of our direct causes. We go through this line of questioning for every causal factor that we add to the board, finding the causes of causes of causes… You will likely find many factors that influence each other and the map can get a little messy. 

Step 3

Once we have a pretty comprehensive map of the various causes of our problem, we go back and try to identify the EFFECTS of the problem statement. What happens when someone with an invisible illness doesn’t get the support they need? What happens then? We repeat the process we did for causes, using sticky notes of a different color or maybe a different font, and add the effects of effects, linking back to the problem statement. You’ll find that some effects are also the direct effects or even causes of factors we’ve already added to our map. Some factors are causes AND effects. We use lots of arrows to try to make this clear, but these systems are going to be complicated.

Step 4

Once we are satisfied with our causality map, we take a closer look at the relationships between factors. Are there any obvious places where we can intervene, or low-hanging-fruit problems that we can solve right now? Are there any feedback loops we can work to address? When the problem we want to solve is big and complicated, identifying related factors — especially related feedback loops — can help us find places to make an impact. We can also use this map to see what consequences our interventions might have. We ask ourselves, if I make a change to this factor, what related factors will be affected? This way, we not only find opportunities for change, but also understand how our changes will affect the community. 

Dimensions, scales, and limitations

Throughout this process, I encourage you to think about factors — causes and effects — from a variety of dimensions and scales. What are some of the political reasons this happens? What about religious beliefs? Are there any reasons related to technology, or economics, or the environment? What impact does this have on my specific town or city? What about at national level? Global level? 

It’s important to remember that we will never know everything about a problem. Not all cause and effects are directly related or obvious or even knowable.

It’s also important to remember that problems are complicated! The systems we live in are vast and complex, and we can only know so much about all the factors that make it up. 

When we create causality maps, it can feel like we’re turning one problem into a LOT of other problems that all need to be solved.  Even if we can’t solve everything, mapping the causes and effects that we DO know can help us get closer to understanding a problem and finding useful solutions.

Problem statement

Today, we’re going to work together to investigate a particular problem in our community, namely:

[This is where you insert the problem statement derived from the participant poll in the registration form or your own research. Discuss whatever details about this problem — who does it affect — and ask a couple of questions for participants to think about during the first break]

Break #1

We’re going to have a 10 minute break to breathe, stretch, do whatever you need to do before we start our group activity in Miro, where we’ll work together to create a causality map. If you want to use this time to open up Miro and play around before we get started, I’ve put the link to the Miro board in the chat. 

[Put the Miro link in the chat.

Note: Tell participants exactly what time you will be restarting the workshop.]

Group Activity

For those of you joining the group activity, we’re in Miro. I’ll share my screen to give you a walk-through. 

[At this point, share your screen and describe and demonstrate how to add sticky notes and arrows to the board.] 

To move around the board, you click and drag, or you can use the map in the bottom right corner to navigate and zoom in and out. 

To add a sticky note, select the fourth tool from the toolbar on the left, a square with the corner folded over. Select the color you want — for causes, we’re using the pale yellow color, the right one at the very top of the list. Then, click where you want to place it. You can start typing into it immediately, and you can always select it to move it around. 

To connect sticky notes with arrows, select the sticky note you want to draw the arrow to, and click one of the small dots hovering around it. Then drag your cursor or just select the note you’re connecting from. 

You can always move things around to make space. Any questions before we get started?

We’re going to have about 30 minutes to work together. 

[Note, if you have 6 or more participants, break them up into breakout groups to work in multiple workspaces on the same problem. Part of the reflection will then be comparing the different maps and understanding patterns and differences. At the end of the 20 minutes, take a minute to briefly describe the major themes in the causality map, or have each group describe their map.]  


We’re going to come back to the Zoom presentation for a quick check-in. Exploring deep-rooted, complicated issues like we just did can be heavy. These problems affect each of us in different ways, and seeing this web of problems and consequences can feel overwhelming. It can bring up uncomfortable memories and complicated feelings, and it can make us feel like the issue is too big to handle. 

It’s important to check in with ourselves and acknowledge any feelings that come up. It’s also important to remember why we’re doing this. Understanding the problem is the first step towards addressing it. And there are plenty of things that people are already doing to make this system better, and those are important to remember and include in our systems thinking process, too. 

If you want to share how you’re feeling, or some good things that exist in the system that maybe didn’t make it onto the map (like the work you’re doing), please feel free to share. If you need to take a break now, feel free to do so. We’ll start the official 10min break after this short check-in. 

Does anybody want to share?

Break #2

We’re going to have a 10 minute break to breathe, stretch, do whatever you need to do before we take some time to reflect and share our thoughts. When we come back, we’ll share our maps and talk through some questions:

  • Did you map anything unexpected, a factor or relationship you hadn’t considered?
  • Can you spot an opportunity within our map for effective intervention?

[If you used breakout rooms, invite participants to check out each other’s maps.

Note: Tell participants exactly what time you will be restarting the workshop.]

Reflections and next steps

Now, we’re going to take time to reflect on our causality map(s), which is just as important as making the map in the first place.


Now that we have our causal map, we have to remember one very important fact: The systems that we are mapping are made of people, including each of us. We are trying to map out a system that we are a part of. We’re looking at a very complicated system — really, a system of systems — from the inside, and with only the perspectives that we bring to the table.

Thinking about what factors we did and did not include can help us identify our blind spots, or learning opportunities. We need to ask, do we have the perspectives of people who are most affected by this problem at the table (we should)? Who are we missing?     

I want to take a few minutes to review our maps, reflect on these perspectives, and ask a few questions. How has your identity and experiences shaped your perspective on this system? Did you miss something? Where are your blindspots?


Our causality maps are also tools for finding places to make change. Let’s take a look at our maps and try to find those places. What feedback loops do you notice (These are cause and effect relationships that loop back on each other)? What opportunities for intervention do you see? And did you learn anything new about the problem, either from your fellow community members or through this mapping exercise? If you have Miro open, let’s add some notes or stars where we think we could make changes for the better. 


Now, let’s think about the future. We have a better understanding of how different factors in the system surrounding us influence the problem we’re trying to solve. These issues can’t all be solved just with financial support and setting up community fridges — although these are important and helpful. Support, solutions, and interventions can look like a lot of different things: educational resources, new government services, helping someone navigate available resources, helping someone fill out important paperwork, offering a safe space to talk, checking in on your neighbor. 

Let’s take some time to think about the future, some next steps we can take. Thinking through our causality map, What changes or solutions do you want to see? What are some changes our community can make now? What are the possible consequences of those changes? What do you think our next steps should be?

Wrapping up

To wrap-up, we learned that Systems Thinking and tools like Causality Maps help us understand and communicate the patterns, the system, around a “symptom” or problem that we want to address. 

Causality maps can help us understand some of the many different causes of a problem as well as its consequences. But by understanding these causal relationships, we can identify more effective places to intervene.

Reflecting on the perspectives that we’ve brought to the table during these problem exploration exercises can help us identify whose voice we haven’t heard yet. Who else does the problem affect, and how? What are the consequences of my intervention, and how will it affect different groups of people?

Working together with our community, including many different perspectives, to understand the system surrounding and creating community problems helps us better understand the problem, anticipate the consequences of actions, and create more and more inclusive, effective, and sustainable solutions. 

Next steps

We will be sending out the presentation slides as well as a stable link to our Miro board to everyone here, and using our discussion here today, we will be following up with you all with some ideas for addressing [community problem] together.

Thoughts and questions

Before we formally end, does anyone have any questions or additional thoughts?

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