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This affinity mapping exercise took place at Biosphere 2 in Tucson, Arizona as part of a stakeholder workshop.  The affinity map was the last of three exercises in a workshop designed to facilitate a discussion about sustainability and a sense of collective action and share vision for the stakeholders of Biosphere 2.

The workshop opened with a participants playing the FishBanks game, a renewable resource simulation game designed to illustrate the tragedy of the commons. The workshop continued with a Force Field Analysis. This activity asked participants to discuss and explore the internal and external forces driving and hindering change at Biosphere 2. The analysis was structured around the three elements of B2’s mission statement: To be a world class research facility; To be a place for public education; and To be a model of operational sustainability. The force field tool facilitated a shared dialogue between workshop participants around the opportunities and challenges associated with making Biosphere 2 a more sustainable organization.

Once this exercise was completed, participants were asked to work individually to brainstorm specific actions that could be taken to either bolster the drivers toward change or mitigate the hindrances against change. Actions were written on Post It notes and were assigned a priority ranking (1-5) to indicate the level of importance. After twelve minutes of divergent thinking all the Post Its were collected and redistributed, and the group was asked to organize all of the responses into categories of similar actions. This collective mapping exercise gave workshop participants the opportunity to glimpse the varying needs of each stakeholder, and to understand how their own interests fit in with those of others.

Eleven categories were defined in this affinity map and the relationships between the categories were charted using an arrow to indicate the direction of influence. This interrelationship mapping revealed one major driver in the system of actions toward organizational sustainability: Implementing Operational Sustainability. Examining the priority ranking of each of the individual responses demonstrated that Developing Strategic Partnerships and Improving IT Infrastructure were also highly important actions toward achieving greater sustainability. The key effects were defined as those actions that are most influenced by others: Rethinking the Visitor Experience, Marketing and Branding and Diversifying Education Programming. These insights were used as the foundation for the sustainability plan by placing emphasis on sustainability of facility operations, and by highlighting that a sustainable business model is equally as important to organizational sustainability.

About the Author
Allan Donnelly is a designer in the San Francisco Bay Area. Allan received an MS in Engineering and Management from MIT and a BA in Architecture from UC Berkeley. Allan is interested in the intersection between design thinking and systems thinking.

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