KConnect System Map 
From Roadmap to Network Web

by Taylor Hartson and Neil Carlson, Calvin University Center for Social Research, January 2020

When KConnect was in development, the founding task force created a “Roadmap” that listed a “system map” as a key early deliverable for the staff of the backbone organization. As the new staff began their work, however, they found that a great deal of trust-building would have to precede the system mapping task, as key stakeholders were initially reluctant to share information necessary to mapping the system.

Later, it became clearer that the problem was not just the availability of the information, it was the very existence of a system; in effect, by pursuing its mission and building its network, KConnect was bringing “system-ness” into being and making it visible. That realization led to the further recognition that a map of the KConnect stakeholder network itself would provide a good approximation of the system map concept.

Developing the Network Map Infrastructure

The KConnect team identified Kumu.io online network mapping software as a promising platform and contracted with the Calvin University Center for Social Research to create a stakeholder network map using Kumu. Kumu displays networks with two primary components, each a spreadsheet-style list: elements (shapes) and connections (lines linking the shapes). We implemented a stakeholder network map that applies the following conventions:

  • Square elements represent legal organizations, such as 501(c)(3) non-profits.
  • Circular elements represent informal or subordinate groupings, such as workgroups, programs, boards, etc.

Connections are typed with one-word verbs that describe the relationship between the “from” element and the “to” element.
For example, in the illustration, the Funder at lower right Governs the Lead Convening Partner through a seat on its Board, Attends a Workgroup that the Lead Convening Partner Convenes, and Funds a Partner Organization, which also Attends the Workgroup.

A Bird’s Eye View of the Entire Network

The default public view of the entire 2017-18 network has 798 elements and 2,330 connections. Elements are color-coded to show nonprofits and their affiliated units in light blue, governments and affiliated units in yellow, for-profit businesses and affiliated units in green, and funders in red (usually foundations, a class of nonprofit).
Elements are sized by “degree”—how many incoming and outgoing connections each element has. The largest single element is CEO Council of Talent 2025, surrounded by a cloud of the many for-profit organizations that attend its meetings. One quick takeaway from the map is that there is ample opportunity to distribute connectivity to for-profit representatives more widely through the network.

The “halo” of disconnected elements around the edges are organizations and groups that did not have a known current relationship to the network in 2017-18.

Early Childhood System Static Map

Over the last year, the KConnect and First Steps Kent team worked with CSR staff to develop some intentionally handcrafted, “static” views of the early childhood system, including elements that represent the success measures, indicators, and “contributing indicators” that have been selected to drive our community’s alignment strategy.

Here’s a view of the early childhood system (use “first steps kent” as your password if you click the link), with success measures in red, indicators in orange, and contributing indicators in dark gray along the bottom:

Contact Us to Suggest New or Updated Content

The team is actively working on a method to automate network feedback. In the meantime, please send your feedback to the Center for Social Research team at csr@calvin.edu with subject line “Kent County System Map feedback”. Many thanks!

Find a more in-depth explanation of the System Map and how to use it as a resource by reviewing “System and Stakeholder Network Mapping” by Taylor Hartson and Neil Carlson, Calvin University Center for Social Research.