Field Guides

This assignment will ask you to use systems thinking and design thinking tools to understand complex issues that are affecting our country today. You will dive deep into a social, environmental, cultural, economic issue to fully understand the intricacies of the problem.

Issued in partnership with:


In any job you may pursue related to social innovation & social finance, you need to have a robust understanding of the issue you’re trying to tackle. Your findings will help you utilize and apply the toolbox of skills you develop through SIA and Railyard Academy.

We will also showcase your work so that donors can leverage your findings to make more informed choices around philanthropy.



1. Utilize systems and design thinking tools to understand the state of an issue relevant to Canada.
2. Utilize Impact Gaps Canvas to identify existing problems, solutions, and gaps to be addressed.
3. Identify social purpose organizations (a mix of non-profits, enterprises, and charities) that are effective at delivering solutions to the issue.



1. Work by yourself, or in teams of up to 3. Looks for teams, or finalize your topic on this Google Sheet.

2. Duration: January 20 – March 26, 2021

3. Estimated hours/week required: 2 hours

Frequently Asked Questions


January 20-29

  • If you want to work with someone, feel free to reach out on your own. Or browse teams that are looking for more teammates in this Google Sheet (See “Browse Topics” sheet)

  • BY FRIDAY JANUARY 29, 2021 11:59PM PT: Register your topic and your team in this Google Sheet (See “Confirmed Teams” sheet).

February 15-19

  • Office hours with SIA , Railyard managers and Charitable Impact Ambassadors
  • Or feel free to reach out whenever to SIA & Railyard managers.

March 22-26

  • Project Showcase – details to be determined.

March 26, 11:59pm PT

  • Final deliverables are due. Upload them here.


01. Visual Map

Detailed actor map, with robust descriptions of how each stakeholder contributes to the issue.

02. Issue Report

Detailed report on the problems, solutions, gaps of the issue being studied.

03. Summary Deck

Summary of what you learned in a short slide deck, written in plain, easy-to-understand language. 


We encourage you to complete interviews with organizations who are working on-the-ground. This includes thinktanks, non-profits, social enterprises, charities, businesses. SIA, Railyard, and Charitable Impact can help you find potential organizations to connect with. We will have a workshop on research ethics and methodology design. For now, please read the Downtown Eastside Research Manifesto (Click here to access)

Visual Map


The Visual Map will be the starting point towards understanding the issue at hand. It will help you and the audience understand how important and complex the problem is. We do not expect you to map out every single component of the system, but it should provide a “snapshot” that is accessible and easy-to-understand.


Actor Map & Causal Loop Diagram | Map the System (by: Zijun Lin and Dr. Nicola Thomas)


Iceberg Model | Map the System (by: Siqi Jiang, Yuxiao Liu, Nitin Pandey, Krishna Mythili Vusulumarti)


We recommend using at least 2 of the the following tools. You can choose to use other design/systems thinking tools, beyond the list below. Any format is welcome – written/drawn, PowerPoint or Google Slides, tools like:, Miro)


Tool 1. Actor Map | Identify which individuals, institutions, organizations play a role in the issue and region. They can be contributing to the issue in a positive OR a negative manner. Read more.


Tool 2. Causal Loop Diagram | Identify how the actors influence each other. Do they craft policy and/or funding? Do they aggravate the problem through their actions? Read more.


Tool 3. Iceberg Model | Iceberg model is a tool that allows you to shift your perspective and see beyond the immediate events that everyone notices. Read more.


Tool 4. Five Whys | The Five Whys is a technique that helps you get to the root cause(s) of the problem. Drill down to the main reasons by asking ”why” five times. Read more.


Issue Report


Over the next 2.5 months, you will perform primary & secondary research on the issue and region. The Issue Report will be a written summary of your findings.


Mental Health in Second-Generation Canadians | Map the System (by: Michael Simoes, Joanne Nellas, Vanessa Sun, Devan Parmar)

Wildfire Crisis in BC | Map the System (by: Stephanie Lam, Hussein Hage-Hassan, Benta Cheng, Katrina Jang, Janani Ravikularam)

Premature Birth | Map the System (by: Dr. Abbey Eeles)


We strongly encourage that you complete at least 2 interviews to understand the issue. Use the Impact Gaps Canvas structure (read more), and have the following four sections. Maximum 2,000 words.


A. Problem Mapping

  • THE IMPACT OF THE PROBLEM: Who are being affected the most by the challenge? How are they being affected? What are the numbers and what is the research saying?
  • THE CAUSE OF THE PROBLEM: What are the underlying causes? Who stands to benefit if it continues to persist?
  • HISTORY AND FUTURE: How has the problem changed over time? What are the trends that will affect the problem?


B. Solutions Mapping 

  • LOCAL SOLUTIONS: What is happening locally? What efforts have been tried and what are the results?
  • GLOBAL SOLUTIONS: What are some other solutions that have been tried elsewhere? What lessons were learned? How can they apply to your region of study?
  • WHAT’S WORKING AND WHAT’S NOT? What are the key successes and failures from existing solutions?

C. Levers of Change

  • What’s missing? (Policies, products, programs, collaboration, knowledge sharing).
  • Where are the gaps between problems and solutions?
  • What’s not being addressed, or under-addressed?
  • Summary of key lessons learned: What else did you learn from your primary and secondary research?

D. SPO Recommendations

  • ORGANIZATION DETAILS: Provide the organization name, website, location, and type of organization (non-profit, charity, business, co-operative, other?)
  • SOLUTION(S): Provide a description of how the SPO’s product, service, program addresses the problem, and how they fit into the Levers of Change previously identified.


Summary Deck


Communicate your findings in an easy-to-understand, visually engaging deck that will help that average donor understand how they can best direct their dollars and efforts towards the issue.


The climate tech opportunity | Quartz ( 

The rise of edtech | Quartz ( 

Meat alternatives are the future of food | Quartz ( 


Click here to access the example summary decks.


Create a deck on Google Slides/PowerPoint; Maximum 12 slides of research content (excludes cover page, team page etc.); Use the Issue Report Structure; Use your Visual Map as well if applicable!; SIA template will be provided.



A. Problem Mapping

B. Solutions Mapping

C. Levers of Change

D. SPO Recommendations

Overview Video