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Go deeper: Create connected loops

This exercise is an opportunity to take your feedback loops a step deeper.


Key to the concept of feedback loops and systems is understanding that the loops themselves don't exist in isolation. They are intricately connected to one another, creating a dynamic system that is self-perpetuating. This is why the phrase "the system is broken" isn't actually trueevery system is operating exactly as it's been designed. It's also why our largest systems–healthcare, criminal justice, housing–seem so hard to change. 


In this exercise, we're going to introduce the concept of connected loops and begin to see how seeing the world through this lens could deepen your reporting.

Review core outcomes

Being able to see the world through the lens of interconnected loops can deepen your reporting in a few ways, including:

  • Offering insight into the cyclical power dynamics that are entrenched within the system you're reporting on;

  • Giving communities the information they need to understand the issue's complexity, and how different actions and interventions can have ripple effects or spark change;

  • Demonstrating a representation of the system that includes as many perspectives as possible.



20–45 minutes

Materials + set-up

You will need: sticky notes, sharpies, flip chart paper (optional)

Here's what you need to get started


Pick a feedback loop

From the exercise before, pick one of the feedback loops you created. This should be one you feel confident about, one that seems particularly strong when considering the system or issue you're reporting on.

Transfer or copy over that loop to a new piece of flip chart paper. If you don't have that, re-write it at the center of a regular piece of paper.


Brainstorm patterns

Looking at your feedback loop, take a few minutes to brainstorm some other patterns that might be happening. What are other trends that you've noticed, or other issues within the system that might connect to this feedback loop?

Write down 3–5 of these on a separate piece of paper.

EX: In the case of criminal justice, some other issues or patterns that exist could be:

  • Funding of law enforcement

  • The prison industrial complex

  • Perceived street crime rates



Build off of one force

Looking at your feedback loop, pick one force that you think is especially strong in your issue or system. 

Using that, build another loop off of it. To do this, think about what else that force causes, or what affects it. Like before, ask yourself: What does this force lead to? Remember to add the +/- indicators.

Use the list of patterns you came up with to help focus your loop on a particular trend.


Build off of another force

Pick another force in your first loop and repeat step 3. Again, use the list of patterns you came up with to help focus your loop on a particular pattern or trend.

This exercise is flexible, so you can do this as many or as few times as you'd like. 

Here's an example of a set of interconnected loops around the topic of criminal justice:

Screen Shot 2020-06-26 at 3.56.40 PM.png


Discuss + debrief

Creating small maps like this can be helpful in looking at your topic or system holistically. After you and/or your team have created one, here are some questions you can reflect on to apply these to your reporting:

  • How can this map inform, challenge, or guide my reporting?

  • What forces or connections in this map haven't been as widely reported on?

  • Is this map a graphic that can be used in a story or series?

  • How can I use this map to help better inform my community? Which members of the community can I bring in for feedback?

  • How can I use this map to interrogate already-existing responses to the system? How can it lead to change in the system?


Back to the exercise

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