Human-Centred Systems Mapping: An Approach to Collaboratively Transform the Disaster Recovery Ecosystem


Throughout a disaster, businesses, governments and community sectors mobilise to support people. However, disaster recovery can’t be achieved with organisations working in silos internally and across sectors. How does the disaster recovery ecosystem behave along the community’s journey? How can collaborative design research influence ecosystem change to meet community needs?

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  • Following the 2019 North Queensland Monsoon Disaster, Thriving Communities Partnership (TCP) sought to understand the disaster recovery ecosystem that residents and local businesses must navigate when a disaster impacts their community. The purpose of the project was to provide tangible, actionable cross-industry improvements to help people impacted by disaster access suitable support. Having previously mapped the community experience, a new challenge emerged. The challenge was how to identify organisations in the ecosystem, understand how their frontline workers interact with the community and each other, and identify opportunities for ecosystem-wide alignment and collaboration.

  • This project combined human-centred design with systems mapping techniques to innovatively map the ecosystem that supports community disaster recovery, including the interactions and leverage opportunities. Through cross-sector workshops, we identified organisations in the ecosystem. Interviews and focus groups were conducted with frontline workers who assisted the community on the ground and remotely. Identifying over 150 organisations and 3000 data points, new analysis methods were applied to connect ecosystem, industry and organisational findings to the community experience, developed in our previous research, to ensure a human-centred focus. An interactive system map and insights report enabled remote, nation-wide engagement of the findings.

  • This project enabled organisations, locally and nationally, to better understand their role in the disaster recovery ecosystem, and how to work collaboratively for impactful systems change. At a local level, 19 organisations across 12 industries in Townsville used the research to identify 28 existing initiatives addressing accessibility, mental health, resourcing and communication challenges to connect and collaborate on. At a national level, the utility sector utilised the research to identify the need for, and collaborate on, industry-wide consistency to disaster recovery. Essential service organisations nationally have used the research to improve how they support customers impacted by disaster events.

  • The interactive system map visualises the network of frontline services and how their interactions impact the community experience throughout a disaster. Using data collected from frontline workers in 12 industries, it conveys the interactions, challenges and opportunities occurring in an ecosystem-wide, cross-sector capacity. It is unique because it integrates the network of organisational relationships with the human experience, highlighting the impact of the interconnectivity on the local community. Normally, system maps portray only network relationships, whereas this one is integrated with the community journey. Across each phase of the community journey, the map details: - The experience for residents and business owners. - Ecosystem-level insights relating to the experiences shared across industries. - Industry-level insights relating to the experiences occurring within a particular industry. - The benefits, challenges and opportunities associated with each insight. - Key existing connections and opportunities for new connections between industries. The digital map provides an interactive visual narrative, enabling remote access and collaboration. The map’s goal is to simplify and make tangible the complexity so organisations can comprehend their role in the broader ecosystem, while seeing the impact on the human experience. With more empathetic, holistic mindsets, organisations can collaborate and leverage opportunities to build more inclusive and connected ecosystems.