Surfacing Dynamic Patterns in Your Stories
Feedback loops are the patterns that drive systems. They are a series of forces that connect to one another in a cyclical way to form a loop. This exercise will help you spot feedback loops driving the issue you're covering – and will probably make you see feedback loops everywhere!
In completing this exercise, you will be able to:
See how your stories are part of larger, cyclical patterns;
Understand how these loops drive your beats;
Uncover entrenched patterns that can be disseminated in your reporting.
Materials + Set-up
This exercise is easiest when having completed the Seeing Your Story as a System exercise, but can be done without. This exercise can be completed on your own, with your reporting team, or with members of the community.
You will need: sticky notes, sharpies, flip chart paper
40 - 60 minutes
Identify Forces (5 minutes)
Think about your topic and the myriad forces that go into it. For instance, if you're on the crime beat, some of those forces could include: incarceration, homelessness, low-level offenses, police brutality, etc.
Write down a few of these forces on a piece of paper. If you’ve already mapped your topic, review the forces you came up with.
Pick a Force (5 minutes)
Look at the forces you’ve written down and pick one that you or your team thinks is important to your topic. Write it on a sticky note and place at the top of your flip chart paper.
Step Three (10-30 minutes)
Ask: What does that force cause? Try to find another force you’ve already identified on a sticky note that answers that question. If you need to add new forces, that’s fine too. Keep asking that question until you’ve looped back around to the first force. If you get stuck, try working backwards. Try to keep your loop size to 3-6 forces.
Keep the forces neutral. For example, instead of saying “Inability to find a job,” say “Employment.”
Step Four (5 minutes)
Once you’ve created your loop, it’s time to label the connections between each force. In the graphic below, notice how an increase in Incarceration leads to a decrease in Employment Stability. Use “+” and “-” signs to indicate the relationships between each force. (This is why you've kept them neutral.)
Review (5-10 minutes)
Talk through your loop. Does it make sense? Are you able to talk through each connection? Is there something missing that’s crucial to this story?
Debrief + Discuss
Creating these loops can be a useful way of organizing some of the complexity reflected in your chaos maps. These can also become useful graphics and syntheses to include in your stories. After you’ve created a few, ask your group:
Is there a story you can tell that illuminates a particular feedback loop?
How might this feedback loop connect to another? And another? (Try it!)
Are there ways to disrupt that loop with your reporting?
Who can you bring in from the community to test the accuracy of your feedback loop? Name 3 people.