Connecting the Dots Community Toolkit

In fall 2020 and spring 2021, I completed my Integrated Design and Media graduate thesis, entitled Connecting the Dots Community Toolkit, a Workshop on Systems Thinking for Community Problem Solving. This toolkit is designed to help disrupt ableism in community resilience initiatives by fostering Systems Thinking and inclusive co-design for community problem-solving.

Go to Connecting the Dots Community Toolkit

View Thesis Report

View Thesis Defense video (10:30)


Connecting the Dots is a participatory, generative research workshop on Systems Thinking for mutual aid and community organizations. In the workshop, participants collaboratively create a Causality Map, a Systems Thinking tool for brainstorming, visualizing, and communicating causal relationships. This tool is particularly helpful for understanding the relationships between different factors of a complex problem, identifying larger feedback loops within a system, and communicating the interconnected causes and effects of a good problem – all critical steps in addressing Wicked Problems affecting a community.

Causality Map generated during the initial prototype of the workshop

The goal of the workshop is to give community members the tools to identify, visualize, analyze, and communicate:

  • the different factors behind a problem
  • how a problem affects different populations within a community
  • opportunities for intervention


Hosted on WordPress, Connecting the Dots Toolkit includes presentation slides and script as well as a full facilitation guide with a separate accessibility guide. The toolkit is designed to meet the following goals:

  1. Enable anyone to conduct the workshop with their mutual aid network or community to promote understanding and communication within the community and to foster collaborative problem-solving
  2. Provide a best practice guide and model for hosting accessible, inclusive workshops

By providing accessible materials as well as a guide for making the workshop accessible and inclusive, the toolkit also aims to:

  • foster respect for human diversity
  • encourage inclusion and leadership from marginalized populations
  • support community resilience


My research included the following:

  • reviewing academic literature spanning sociology, psychology, disability studies, community resilience, sharing economies and mutual aid, design theories, and more
  • reviewing popular media describing current events related to the COVID-19 pandemic, lived experiences of people with invisible disabilities, and knowledge and insight from activists in the Disability Justice and collective care movements
  • interviewing stakeholders: people involved with community organizations and people with invisible disabilities
  • interviewing experts from the fields of disability studies and accessibility; mutual aid and community engagement; and transition design and design justice
  • conducting a participatory causality mapping workshop with stakeholders (see below)

As part of my research, I conducted a systems thinking/causality mapping workshop with some of my stakeholders in order to:

  1. learn more about their priorities and perspectives on support and resilience
  2. test the relevance and success of teaching collaborative design tools to non-designers/community workers

The workshop was very successful and supported my hypothesis that such a workshop would help support my stakeholders’ goals. My subsequent design process included the following:

  • user testing of the initial prototype workshop
  • participant survey and qualitative data analysis
  • improvement mapping
  • stakeholder reviews of workshop and facilitator materials
  • accessibility audit of documentation and presentation materials
  • comparison analysis of similar products

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