Tool for Mapping Relationships

Thanks to Texans Together, Mi Familia Vota-TX and other folks from Houston and Austin for helping me re-think this tool at the Texas Table conference last month.

Download This Tool (includes diagram)


Mapping Your People

Here’s a networking activity for looking at what opportunities, organizations or people are just outside your network. It was originally adapted to help SOA Watch activists around the US & Canada think about which local groups they could partner with in the future.


  • Identify groups (or individuals) to collaborate with
  • „ Begin an outreach plan


30-45 minutes


Markers, chart paper

How It’s Done

Draw a circle with a thick border in the middle of an easel pad sheet.  Now draw another with a thinner, dashed border outside the circle, and also one inside the circle.

“We all have a group of ‘Usual Suspects,’ the organizations we collaborate with more frequently.” Small businesses have their preferred vendors and business associations. Activists have their die-hard allies.

1 – Usual Suspects: We Collaborate With Them Regularly

2 – Long-Lost Friends: We’ve Worked With Them in the Past, But It’s Been a While

3 – Six Degrees of Separation: No Collaboration Yet, But We Have a Connection

4 – Future Connections: No Connection But We Should Reach Out Anyway

5 – Organizations/Individuals That Might Exist

(For a group that might have a harder time diving into this exercise, I begin with a campaign story about an unlikely alliance that began with a brainstorm like this, and which uses examples for each of the categories.)

First, write the “Usual Suspects” in the inner circle. Then generate the groups they’ve worked with in the past.

For the next tasks, if you don’t already have a category of organization to focus-in on (like “local tech companies,” “pro-choice groups”) I find it can be helpful to first invite some brainstorming. If your group works on prison issues, you might want to first think of other sectors (housing, employment, international issues, gender justice). If you have enough marker colors, each category of organization could get a different color, making it easier to track them across the “map”.

The distinction between “Six Degrees of Separation” and “Future Connections” may be confusing – make sure to ask for examples of each in the large group. “How do you know the kickball team is a ‘4’?”

Then have them get in groups of three to generate the other lists. “What are the groups that you know exist, but you haven’t had any direct contact? Maybe they’re members of the same association, or work in a similar neighborhood across town.”

Finally, invite them to think about what might be missing. “Are there sectors not represented here? There might be groups we don’t know about yet – we might need to do some research or ask our soon-to-be-friends.” Write these sectors with a marker color you haven’t used yet along the edge of the page.

Invite reflection on how to prioritize which groups are most important to connect with at this point in time. Is there a particular resource need? An event coming up that you’d like to invite others to participate in? Or a longer-term plan to diversify your alliances?

Then have them turn to a partner and decide on two groups in categories 2 to 5 to focus on for follow-up.  When they’re done, use checkmarks to track the popularity of each group. If there aren’t clear choices in each category, invite sharing of the considerations they discussed in the dyads.

If you have extra time, you can create a more traditional relationship bubble map on another sheet with the groups that they’ve chosen and map the possible connections from their group to the others. Then you can ask for volunteers to put their names up as “bottomlining” the relationship for each target group.

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