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Map the System 2020’s transition to virtual

by: Paula Sahyoun and Kelly Hodgins

The 2020 Map the System Canadian Finals was set to be memorable from the start. Preparations were well underway as this year’s host, HEC Montreal, geared up to welcome 17 teams of students, chosen from over 450 student participants from universities and colleges across Canada, 

image of a globe, with images of three viruses around the edge
Then the pandemic hit.

And we, like so many others across the globe, were thrown into contingency planning mode.

How would we do this if not in-person?

The National Final weekend was always considered to be necessary. It brought into one room students’ ideas and passions from all sides of this country, and it connected educators who shared a vision for changemaker education. It seemed “a given” that this geographic convergence — in one place, for one weekend — was necessary to conclude the pan-Canadian program. But, like so many other examples in our lives, COVID-19 forced us to reflect on assumptions and “givens.” 

Many of those working on responses to the pandemic (or indeed, any disruptive crisis) think of Respond, Recover, Rebuild, as a way to frame purpose and intent.

Jed Emerson reminds us, however, that this framing omits a critical first step: Reflect. Despite the urgency and chaos of COVID-19, it would be reckless to respond without clarity, which you only get from careful reflection. 

Thus, our contingency planning began by reflecting on the ‘raison d’être’ of ‘Map the System’. What makes Map the System unique? What do students value from it? What about educators? Why, year after year, do institutions continue to actively participate? 

We answered these, energized and finding purpose with every line. Map the System is about: 

– The opportunity for students to learn about systems change.

– The opportunity to learn deeply and collaboratively with teammates from different disciplines on a real-world social or environmental problem they care deeply about.

– The opportunity for a pan-Canadian exchange of ideas with like-minded changemakers.

March was a chaotic time, and to alleviate pressure, we pushed back deadlines. Then we hosted Zoom calls to hear from students and educators, and we sent out surveys. We asked and listened. Are you still interested in participating in Map the System? What challenges are you grappling with? Do you need additional support to finish? To compete? Do you have access to reliable internet? 

This reflection didn’t take longer than a week, but it provided us the clarity we needed to make data-based decisions on how to pivot, and sent us a clear message that a virtual competition was desired and necessary. It also provided us the opportunity to involve participants in co-creating the virtual experience. 

We were ready to respond. 

And the pivots we took ended up having unanticipated positive outcomes! 

In lieu of a live presentation, students were challenged to submit a 5-minute video. 

Upside? For the first year ever, teams’ remarkable presentations will be shared publicly (you can see them all here!) 

In lieu of answering judges’ questions in a five-minute question period, watched by an audience, at the national final, each team met virtually with judges for a 20-minute video conversation. 

Upside? This became a rich learning experience, which served to deepen students’ own understanding of their topic, by way of reflection and conversation. 

Finally, instead of a convening in Montreal, we hosted a virtual Showcase: aiming to be a celebration of the Canadian finalist teams and a way to showcase and applaud all teams for their hard work.

Upside? Two hundred people from across Canada tuned in! And we reduced our carbon footprint!

Together, we watched the 16 finalist teams’ video presentations. Throughout the showcase, the chat function lit up as teams and audience members from across the country cheered on one another and offered thoughtful commentary. 


Because we were able to engage the audience in ways that hadn’t been possible in the in-person competitions, we were able to create an “Audience Choice” award, using Zoom’s polling function. The recipients, who were awarded $500 to donate to a Canadian charity of their choice, were: 

Corpus Christi: “Youth Homelessness Crisis in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside”
Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning: “Canadian Indigenous Reserves Clean Water Crisis”

The judges evaluated the following as best meeting the Map the System criteria: 

University of Waterloo: “Transit-Induced Gentrification’’
Mount Royal University: ‘’Canadian Charity System’’
University of British Columbia: ‘’Free Periods Canada – Menstrual Inequity in Canada’’
Corpus Christi: ‘’Youth Homelessness Crisis in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside’’
Memorial University of Newfoundland: ‘’Holocene – Flooding Crisis in Canada’’
Ryerson University: ‘’The Crisis of Affordable Rental Housing in Toronto’’

These teams will move on to the Global competition, hosted by Oxford University in June. They are also eligible to apply for $10,000 in Apprenticing with the Problem funding, a program which supports students to build on and explore the gaps, levers of change, and missed opportunities identified in their Map the System research.


cartoon of apartments with each window filled with different individuals, playing music, waving at their neighbours, and flying kites out their windows

We learned a lot too. The challenges faced by organizers, students and educators forced us to reflect on the core purpose of this challenge. They forced us to respond in ways we didn’t know were possible. And the unexpected positives in this opened our eyes to ways we can rebuild the program better into future years. 

The determination of these systems thinking students deserves to be celebrated and revisited. We encourage everyone reading this to check-out the 16 Map the System finalist video submissions here.

Thank you to everyone who made Map the System 2020 possible. This rich community of changemaking, students, educators, local judges, national judges, and family and friends supports truly shaped Map the System’s success. 

We look forward to seeing you all next year.

May 26, 2020 | Tags: , , ,