In a recent mapping conversation about "gather(ing) all the externalities, all the consequences, into a shared global economic map", some questions about the dangers of assumptions came up:

This 'anything not on the map gets ignored' problem is real, important, and - unfortunately - it can also derail a mapping process before it gets started. People give up.

I have a few thoughts on this:

Something is better than nothing.

This point of view is more often framed by mapping folks as:

All models are wrong, some models are useful.

Better a map scratched onto rock or wood than none at all.

We have what we need.

In communities around the globe, many groups and organisations already track outcomes they care about, including those ignored by our current economic systems, even if it's not all of them.

We just have a hard time knowing and finding the ones we need, when we need them. The local and regional scale is where most desired - or actual - impacts and outcomes, are usefully seen and gathered.

Trouble is, we are at (past?) the point now where we need global access. We need to be able to see our complexities, but we don't have a good view.

Some panic is generative.

In the face of the various chaotic transitions we are seeing world-wide at the moment, many people are panicking. This can show up as denial, as depression, and as despair, which we all cycle through. This panic can also lead effective, clear-eyed action.

Panic can un-stick what's been stuck.

Municipal and regional governments and groups are starting to realize that they are the frontlines for many of our crises, and our potential futures. People are gathering, in cities, around bioregions and areas of work they care about, and driving changes that have been stuck for years. For decades. Even centuries..

Part of our transition is a shift from nouns to verbs.

You can look across any field of study or industry today and find things moving from a focus on things to a focus on flows. Relationships. Connections. I think of this as a several hundred year transition from mechanistic thinking to ecological thinking. From Descartes to Darwin.

e.e. cummings, in his autobiographical book, The Enormous Room, thought of a truly alive human being as "A Verb; an IS". R Buckminster Fuller spoke of humans as pattern integrities, verbs in material form:

"Each individual is a pattern integrity. The pattern integrity of the human individual is evolutionary and not static."

More recently, physicist and ecoliteracy advocate Fritjof Capra teamed up with chemist Pier Luigi Luisi to write The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision, as primer on learning to think in this new way. If you're lost, this is a great place to start.


For cartographers, strategists, and other complexity wranglers, this shift from nouns to verbs can be seen as a move from strategic planning approaches to dynamic mapping. We don't need a static, perfect map, or a five year plan. No such map exists, or ever will, and in five years we'll all be surprised at something new. This connected, networked world is complex. It's unpredictable.

Right now, in the next three months, during this next year, we need to connect people driving changes we care about, people building viable, regenerative communities on the local and regional scale, with the information and resources they need.

Fast. Faster than we are currently doing it.

The point of dynamic mapping is not analysis, but action.

Dynamic mapping requires network leaders.

Returning to the conversation from which these thoughts flowed, let's look at the second, implicit problem: what is not measured gets ignored.

Historically, this is a huge problem. At its base, this IS the ignoring of verbs, of flows, of relationships, of care-taking and caretakers, of women, of those who serve. Dynamic maps help with this not by mapping and measuring the unmeasurable, but by being dynamic. A community's relationship to its map is of primary importance, not the map as an artifact.

Verbs even over nouns.

By linking the creation of local and regional maps to ongoing, iterative conversations, a dynamic mapping process can be designed to surface and support both updates and changes to a map and the soft, warm relational work of a community's network guardians and caretakers.

We don't ignore what can't be measured, we make it a prerequisite.

Here are some resources for all this:

  • For more on systems and networks and people, see the Kumu blog, such as this post on Principles for Network Thinking and Action. And Kumu itself is a wonderful tool and generative 'kumunity':

A network guardian/ network weaving maven is June Holley. Essential.

And Nora Bateson, liminal space explorer and coiner of "warm data", is pushing systems thinkers who think they're doing it right to expand our understanding of relationships. See her new book, Small Arcs of Larger Circles: Framing through Other Patterns.

A bioregional example:

Want an example of dynamic mapping? A global experiment in network intelligence and engagement. GENIE.  Beginning with a bioregional mapping effort in the Pacific Northwest, we're is building maps and models to help regenerative work scale across communities and connect for global use.

We want to make it faster and easier to implement dynamic mapping practices coherently, collect community intelligence, act and learn. Together. And to scale that learning across.

Mapping in a community of practice

Mapping the decentralized web

In the Digital Life Collective, we are building another example, a network map for the tech community. We starting with folks involved with the decentralized web, moving from our demo map to a pilot version in August 2018 with a launch at the Decentralized Web Summit.

Build this with us, or partner with us and build one for your network(s), by joining the Digital Life Collective and asking about mapping in our team chat, or by emailing the mapping team.

We are our own limits.

The limiting factor in all this is not our technological capabilities of the right tools, or finding out some sort of global consensus on the desired outcomes. We have gone from scratching maps on rock and paper to photons and quantum possibilities. Nearly unlimited possibilities lay ahead of us.

Our limiting factor is us. We, the people.

We need to level up our skills. We need facilitators who can bridge the people-people and the code/numbers-people. We need mappers who enjoy complex adaptive system challenges and network guardians listening for both community coherence and for the nouns and verbs we need to make our dynamic maps useful over time. We need data Jedi to help us use the insights from this work as a force for change. We need to get these mapping tools and processes to the network of networks, the movement of movements, a global linkage for those who act as their community's glue. We need support for those who do the unmeasurable.

And, importantly, we need coordination across all those networks of people.

Calling all mappers!

So, in the conversation that started this post, when I asked for mappers, I meant it. We are doing this work. We need #AllMindsOnDeck. Come find us.

Come find your others in the Collective, and in your local communities, everywhere.

This Earth is our planet. Let's connect our dynamic, practical maps.

Christina Bowen

-knowledge ecologist at the Digital Life Collective

Abundant gratitude to @leashless, @goldengus and the teams at @tech_we_trust for catalyzing this (and many a) generative conversation, to @sheldrake and @ppbpdx for being on-deck mappers with me, to all the @kumupowered Jedi and network mavens, to @bortseb for appearing in all the networks, to @whanamura and the @internetarchive for seeing the potential in mapping and fostering engagement with the amazing DWeb community, to @opencollect for powering GENIE, to all the mappers and stewards of thriving resilience and TRCC, to @teamhumanshow for existing, and to @jennifersertl for the wonderful and urgent call for "#AllMindsOnDeck".

This work is only possible because of you.