Mapping: Deciding Which Is the Road Not Taken

The refrain from George Harrison’s song, “Any Road” — “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road’ll take you there” — certainly speaks to the importance of having a destination in mind. Place one finger where you want to go on a road atlas and another on the place where you’ll start and the various routes to get from one to the other become obvious. Then, it’s a straightforward process to apply criteria such as distance, time, traffic patterns, etc. to determine which particular route to take.

The concluding lines in Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” state:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, | I took the one less traveled by, | And that has made all the difference.

In a classic style, Frost explains how he resolved a dilemma that confronts all of us at some point — a choice between two paths that, once made, offers no chance to go back and choose the other. Unlike the previous instance where destination featured heavily in which road to choose, in this one, the journey becomes more important than the destination. The choice depends on a willingness to explore a foreign landscape and take advantage of the opportunities discovered there.

Here, too, the traveler applies an equally valid process based on powerful criteria such as sensitivity to initial conditions, availability of resources, and degree of advocacy and participation to guide decisions of which way to go. These criteria are often represented in “maps” that don’t look like the more familiar road atlas, but serve a similar purpose in that they show the physical associations among people, places, things as well as define their characteristics in large data sets and frame their interrelationships to powerful concepts and innovative ideas.

During the course of the grants mentioned in my initial post, we introduced several types of maps and mapping processes that blended “destination” and “journey” perspectives, but focused on localizing business ecosystems and developing business cases. Among these are the following:

I encourage you to join LocalFoodSystems.org (it’s free!) so you can explore these mapping features more thoroughly and see how they apply in the context of YOUR business ecosystems as you decide which is the road not taken!

Originally posted to Sustainable Local Economic Development by Steve Bosserman on Thursday, August 9, 2012