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How to use this toolkit

New to the site and not sure where to start?


We recommend starting by reading our Intro to systems thinking >. From there, you can visit our Tools > page for a series of exercises that can help you apply a systems lens to your reporting. These tools are meant to be used in the order on the page, starting from the top, but they can each be done on their own. 


We've also mapped out a few different scenarios you might find yourself in and some recommendations for which tools could be the most helpful:


A quick intro to systems thinking

First, read the basic introduction to systems thinking >. This will help you and your team learn  the basic terms and ideas from systems thinking and explain why we think it can be so helpful for journalists. (It’s a quick read, we promise.)

Then, try visualizing the systems in your reporting > through the Iceberg Model. This is a quick tool we designed to help journalists reorient their reporting less around individual events, and more around the patterns, structures, and ideas that perpetuate those events. Try doing this on your own or as a team.

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A new way to approach your beat

First, spend some time identifying your key stakeholders and their information needs>. This will help you focus your reporting around the communities you’re serving. Steps 4, 5, and 6 will be especially helpful for brainstorming ways you can make your beat more participatory and accessible.


Next, map your beat as a system >. You already know many of the forces and elements that drive the system you’ve been covering—this exercise can help see how they connect to one another. Spending some time creating this map can also help you identify potential gaps in your coverage and unique angles to report on.


Finally, uncover the patterns in your story >. This exercise works really well after you map your system. It will help you surface the feedback loops that perpetuate many of the issues in your beat, understand how those patterns drive traditional coverage, and brainstorm ways to use these loops in your reporting.

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Beginning a long-term project

First, use our iceberg model exercise to visualize the systems in your reporting >. For longer investigations, starting your process with this exercise can ground you and your team with a contextual perspective of the systems at play in the issues you're reporting on. The questions in step 5 will be particularly useful as you chart your path forward.

After you’ve visualized the system, try creating a guiding vision for your reporting >. Since you’re just starting, setting goals and considering the impact your journalism could have within the system y can help you decide where to focus and how to frame your initial reporting. 

Mapping the different stakeholders > who are involved in the issue can also be a good exercise early in your process to get you thinking of different ways you could produce, publish and distribute your reporting with these people in mind. 

Finally uncover the assumptions driving the system > you’re reporting on. This can come fairly early on in the reporting process and is a tool you can revisit as you continue your work. It will help you surface the personal and collective ideas that drive the system you’re reporting on and how your journalism can inform and challenge them.

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Deepening community collaboration

Start out by identifying key stakeholders and information needs >. This will help you define who you want to focus on in your reporting and how you can center specific communities in your work. The questions and prompts in this exercise let you brainstorm creative ways to become more accessible and develop more participatory journalism.


Our exercises are mostly geared for collaborating with your newsroom colleagues, but you can also lead them with community members to get their input. You can use your stakeholder maps to decide who to include. We recommend creating a representative group of the system you're covering.


With your community, you can create a guiding vision for your reporting >. Do this exercise collaboratively, with journalists as participants. This will help everyone walk away with a shared vision for the system you’re reporting on, ideas on how your reporting can help reach that vision, and a goal for your reporting that is informed by those most directly affected by the issues at play.


After you’ve created a guiding vision with community members, try mapping the story as a system > with the same or a different group. This can be a great way to understand how different groups experience the issues you’re reporting on, uncovering issues you may have overlooked and facilitating meaningful conversations about how the system operates. If participants are willing, you could even report on the process of making this map together.

Finally, you can partner with your community to uncover patterns in the system >. This works as a next natural step after mapping the story as a system. Doing this with your stakeholders can give you and other participants an opportunity to develop a more rich  understanding of the system, illuminating different perspectives, and uncovering shared experiences that can help inform and deepen your journalism.

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