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A letter from the Director

Putting our toolkit for journalists into context. 

I first became interested in systems thinking when I was writing a book about digital culture in the 2000s. At the time, academics at places like MIT were saying that systems thinking was going to be a crucial skill in the 21st century, a requirement for understanding and having agency in a world that was becoming increasingly interconnected and globalized. 


As we prepare to publish this toolkit of systems thinking tools for journalists, COVID-19 is raging and the streets are filled with people protesting police brutality and racial injustice. 


Never has it been more clear that we need to get better at understanding how the systems around us work, and how they might be changed.


Part of the reason I founded Journalism + Design in 2014 was because I imagined a kind of journalism that could bring a systemic perspective to reporting. I have long felt that the biggest and most urgent stories of our time—climate change, racial injustice, income disparity, growing authoritarianism—are, by nature, systems stories. How can we intelligently present these problems when we ourselves struggle to understand how systems work or how change happens in systems?


At the end of the day, it’s about power. Who has it? Who doesn’t? And why? Systems are never “broken.” They do exactly what they’re designed to do. We just don’t always realize what we’ve designed, or have allowed to be designed around us—or what the consequences are.


So today, as I write this from my apartment, stuck in here because there’s a global pandemic outside, and I listen to the sounds of fury and hope and frustration and pain rising from the protests a block away, I feel sure that the work of reclaiming the systems we live in, of making sure they’re designed to benefit the many rather than the few, is the central work of our time. 


As reporters, we may not want to think of ourselves as activists, but surely we can agree we’re supposed to be on the side of democratic values and ideals; that the role of the free press is to help protect these values. 


I feel strongly that the tools on this site can help us do this job.



Heather Chaplin,

Founding Director, Journalism + Design 

7 JULY 2020 

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