Understand Influences

For this step you will need:


A social problem does not exist in isolation. It’s surrounded by a complex web of relationships among individuals, institutions, and influences.

Earlier you interviewed some stakeholders to deepen your understanding of the problem. Now that you’ve decided on an ultimate outcome—on what would constitute success in solving the problem—you return to researching the issue. It’s time to consider a broad set of stakeholders with an eye toward solutions, and with particular attention to how they might aid or thwart potential solutions.

In this step, you will also zoom out to look at the broader system in which the problem occurs. This will help you identify major forces that affect the problem or would be affected by solutions to it.

With a more complete picture, you can begin to consider which of a number of possible approaches you might use to address the problem.

Identifying Stakeholders

Let’s consider stakeholders and how they can contribute to your success.



Jordan's Journey

Let’s check in with Jordan and see what she finds while exploring stakeholders and influences.

Mapping the System

Every social problem is embedded in a network of forces that affects its scope and possible solutions. In addition to stakeholders’ beliefs and behaviors, these forces can include trends, events, social and cultural norms, environmental and social phenomena, the economy, institutions, laws, policies, and so on. *

A systems map provides an additional and powerful tool for helping you craft a solution to a social problem. Rather than focusing on stakeholders, a systems map describes forces that affect the problem.

Visualizing these forces in a systems map can help you understand:

See a systems map for homelessness

You may find it helpful to build a systems map around your problem. Each factor that you include in a systems map is a variable. It can increase or decrease, thereby causing an increase or decrease in other factors.

A systems map will help you visualize the interconnectedness of forces that affect the problem and that might affect your solution. With a systems map, you can begin to look for points of intervention to solve the problem and see the effects of proposed solutions.

You don’t need special software to make a systems map for your problem. Follow Jordan’s example and get started using a pen and paper.


You gain a broader perspective on the space around your problem when you consider stakeholders and other influences.

Before moving on, be sure that you have a good understanding of:

Don’t get stuck analyzing every inch of the problem’s landscape. You will continue to have opportunities to consult stakeholders and explore other factors as you develop, test, and revise your theory of change.