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Supporting systems thinking across Social Science: a Map the System celebration

Map the System students explore key societal challenges for an international competition

MtS map of autism and girls
A system analysis of the factors contributing to the failings of autism diagnosis and post-diagnostic support amongst female populations in the UK – by Hannah Way

Over the course of this academic year, students from Social and Political Sciences and Psychology have been working together to understand and explain six complex systems, with the chance of sharing their insights at an international competition headed by the University of Oxford.

Teams of up to six students selected a system of interest and began to understand it and frame the boundaries of it. A team of NTU staff led by Dr Eva Zemandl hosted a range of workshops throughout the year to support each team to learn about complex systems, to understand and identify actors and issues and how to present and make sense of their research with a visual systems map and report.

Our teams explored how citizens and organisations engaged with and considered climate change in Nottingham, how the African Union operated, the ways different people experience the UK’s asylum process, how young black males experience mental health services, the funding and research system surrounding ADHD and finally how female autism is diagnosed and supported.

Each project had to create a visual map of their system, a report that explained this map and a bibliography of sources that informed their project. Each team also presented their work to their peers. Copies of each of the maps are available to view below.

Following submission, in early April the project team reviewed each team’s submission based on the criteria set out by the University of Oxford. Each project showcased the work they had done well, and the team balanced the different elements to select one project to be nominated to represent NTU at the international event.

“Issues of Autism Diagnosis & Post-Diagnostic Support in Girls” was selected in our local final to represent NTU at the virtual international competition at Oxford in June of this year. The Map the System team is supporting this project to finalise their submission. On Wednesday 19 May we hosted an internal showcase for Map the System with colleagues and students from across the School of Social Sciences. This provided a perfect practice run-through for NTUs representative ahead of the international final in June.

Map the System provides students with the opportunity to work across disciplines on large scale projects that they identify. It provides a model of viewing the world and issues within it that challenges students to explore all the myriad of factors that shape societal issues. It helps them to see the big picture, spot the areas for improvement and begin to understand the complexity that exists helping us to understand how to draw together groups to make a difference.

We wish our selected finalist good luck next month along with all the other teams who have used their expertise and skills to understand, display and consider the various factors and issues related to their system.

If you’d like to find out more about Map the System visit the competition website.

If you’d like to know more about NTU’s experience, contact the project team at /

Nottingham Civic Exchange

Nottingham Civic Exchange has been established by Nottingham Trent University to maximise research, policy and practical impact by bringing together university expertise with partners seeking to address the needs of communities. Nottingham Civic Exchange acts as a resource to look at social and economic issues in new ways. This means facilitating debate, acting as a bridge between research and policy debates, and developing practical projects at a local, city and regional level.

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