The COVID-19 pandemic and global protests against police brutality in 2020 have put the systemic nature of our most entrenched problems in full view.
As journalists, the work we do has a direct impact on the way people see and approach seemingly intractable problems, like climate change, poverty, or systemic racism, to name just a few. This moment offers an opportunity: how can journalists better report on the ways that systems are structured, not just the symptoms they produce?
Since 2018, our team at Journalism + Design has been developing workshops, tools, and resources for journalists to explore that question. What kind of creative ways can we find to unpack and address complex issues in and with our communities?
Today, we’re excited to introduce a free systems thinking toolkit for journalists based on the exercises we’ve developed through years of research and workshops in news organizations around the country. It’s filled with flexible activities and ideas that reporters, editors, and newsroom leaders can use to explore new angles for their journalism, going beyond what is happening to why and how things are happening.
We often say systems are “broken,” but that’s not true. Our systems are operating exactly as they’ve been designed. The events we’re witnessing — a pandemic that’s forcing essential workers to put their health at risk, police murdering people of color — are symptoms of the rules, feedback loops, ideas, and power dynamics that are baked into the systems that make up our world.
Whether you’re reporting on current events — Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the local impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic — or you want a fresh perspective for covering beats like education, housing, or elections, these tools can help you unpack and interrogate the interconnected systems and forces that drive them. At the end of the day, these resources are about adopting a habit of mind and a different way of thinking that can inform how you approach a story, issue, or beat.
Here’s a quick overview of what’s on the site, and how you can use it:
- Get a quick introduction to systems thinking and what it can mean for journalism;
- Use the iceberg model to help you contextualize an event or issue you’re covering;
- Set a guiding vision that can help orient your reporting around impact;
- Identify stakeholders and their information needs to inform your understanding of how systems operate;
- Map an issue or beat to find unexpected angles and connections;
- Surface the dynamic patterns and feedback loops that perpetuate an issue or problem;
- Uncover the assumptions, ideas, and narratives that are driving the systems you’re covering;
- Explore different questions you can ask during the reporting process.
We’re planning to iterate on these tools based on feedback, so please send your thoughts. And if you have suggestions on how we can improve, or if you want to talk with our team about applying these tools to your journalism and in your news organization, get in touch.