Systems Practice

Are you working with the Systems Practice workbook, either through the +Acumen course or directly with The Omidyar Group? If so, you're in the right place. This guide provides a step-by-step approach on how to use Kumu alongside a systems practice.

Download the TOG Systems Practice workbook

New to using Kumu? Kumu is a collaborative, web-based platform for creating interactive system maps. If you're not already familiar with Kumu, click on the links below to explore existing projects build using Kumu:

Creating your first project

If you don't already have a Kumu account, sign up for one by visiting Once you've created an account, visit your dashboard and create a new project.

Choosing a template

Since you're building a system map, make sure to choose the "system" template.

Inviting someone to collaborate

If you'd like to collaborate on your map with other team members, open your map and then use the menu in the upper left corner to access the project settings. Click on the "members" section and then add an email address to invite someone to collaborate. If that person already has a Kumu account, they'll immediately get access. If not, we'll send an invitation asking them to sign up for Kumu.

Building your first loop

Watch this video for an overview on how to build your first loop in Kumu:

Adding elements and connections

You can add elements and connections by clicking the green "+" button at the bottom of the map. To add an element (also referred to as a "factor"), click the "+" button, choose "add element", type the name of the element and then hit enter. To add a connection, first select an existing element you want to connect from, then hit the green "+" button, choose "add connection", and then type the name of the element you want to create a connection to and hit enter.

Indicating the causality of a connection

Whenever you add a connection, it's a good practice to indicate the causality of a connection (how one factor affects another). The Systems Practice guide recommends using the following options:

  • ++ (as one factor increases, the other also increases)
  • -- (as one factor decreases, the other also decreases)
  • +- (as one factor increases, the other decreases)
  • -+ (as one factor decreases, the other increases)

To indicate the causality of a connection, first click on the connection so that the profile appears on the left side of your screen. You'll see a placeholder at the top that says "add connection type". Click that and then choose which of the above best represents the causality of the connection. You'll then see the corresponding "+" or "-" appear at the ends of the connection.

Creating a loop label

You'll continue adding elements and connections until you have one or more loops. It can be helpful to explicitly name the loops you are building by adding a loop label. To add a loop label, click the green "+" button and then choose "add loop". You then need to click on each connection that is part of the loop, then add a loop label, and finally hit enter.

Now if you click on the loop label, you'll see a profile for the loop show up on the left hand side. Use this to include a narrative of the dynamics of the loop.

What should I use as a loop label? We recommend using a combination of "R" or "B" (for reinforcing and balancing) plus a short label for the dynamic at play (R: Trust in Government) and even a numerical label if that further helps differentiate your loops (R15: Trust in Government).

Made a mistake or need to edit the loop? To edit an existing loop, click on the loop label and then click the edit icon (). You can then click connections to add/remove them from the loop.

Moving elements and loops and reshaping connections

You can click and drag any element to move its location. You can also change the curvature of a connection by clicking and dragging the middle of the connection. If you want to move just the loop label, simply click and drag the label. If you'd like to move the loop label along with all the elements and connections in that loop, hold alt or option and then click and drag the label.

Adding additional background and context using profiles

Kumu makes it easy to add additional information about each element, connection, and loop using the profile.

Leverage analysis

If you're using the +Acumen Systems Practice Course project, you'll automatically have a field listed in the profile called "leverage analysis". Click to edit the value of this field and you'll see there are 5 choices:

  • Frozen
  • Energy for change
  • Mixed bag
  • Bright spots
  • Ripple effects

Use this field to indicate which elements, connections, and loops fall into each of the above categories.

Defining elements/factors

It can be helpful to have more than just a few works explaining what each factor is on your map. Add a definition of the factor and try linking out to other websites and sources that contain more information about that factor.

You'll see a dashed rectangle towards the top of the profile for an element. Click where it says "add description" and then type in your definition and paste in any relevant links.

Here's an example of a profile for an element with additional context included: System map in Kumu

Custom fields

Looking to track more information about each element, connection or loop? You can easily add a new field by clicking the "+ New Field" button in the profile of any element, connection or loop. For example, you might add a "Stakeholder working on this area" field and use that to list the relevant people and organizations working on a given element, connection, or loop.

Bringing your map to life with decorations

Once you've added additional background and context using the profile, you can then bring that context to life by creating decorations based on the values you've saved to the profile. Let's run through an example to create a decoration for any elements marked as "frozen" in the leverage analysis.

  1. Click the settings button on the right side of the map to open the view settings
  2. Click the "decorate" tab and then choose "Add element rule"
  3. Choose "decorate custom selection" in the top dropdown
  4. Choose "Leverage analysis", then "contains", and then type "Frozen"
  5. Specify the direction (start by choosing "Change color" and then picking red)
  6. Scroll down in the window and add a legend entry ("Frozen") and then click "Done"

You can follow similar steps for connections as well. If you need further guidance on creating decorations, make sure to check out our decorations guide.

Sketch mode and other shortcuts

Once you've gotten comfortable with the basics, it's worth exploring some of the shortcuts and advanced features Kumu offers for making it quicker to build your system map.

Alt is your friend

If you hold alt and click anywhere on the map, you can create a new element in that location. Hold alt and drag from an existing element and you can create a connection (either to an existing element, or if you release your cursor on a blank part of the map it will create a new element there).

Sketch mode

You can enter sketch mode by clicking the green "+" button and then choosing "Sketch". Sketch mode makes it so you can you can click anywhere on the map to add a new element. Dragging from an existing element will automatically create a connection.

If you want to exit sketch mode, just hit esc.

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