Ecograms and other Maps

Several directions to consider


Elsewhere, I have described the safe experiment that is The Road Map. Here I want to describe another Map – the Ecogram; sometime called an Eco Map.

Another word often used is Genogram, but this often applies to describing the more formal relationships within a family: mother, father, son, daughter and cousin and so on.

Consider the example of Jacob’s web site; it contains a lot of information about symbols you can use to develop your map. Another site you may like to explore is: here

Whatever label is used, the map you will be drawing is of your family and/or key relationships in your life. Wikipedia describe the eco Map at this page:

eco map

This experiment – drawing an eco-map, eco-gram or Geno-gram – helps us to slow down and to reflect on our important relationships. Also, it helps us notice where we appear to ‘fit in’. It is possible that you will be uncomfortable about some relationships –  there will be people with whom you have an difficult or distant relationship. Alternatively, you may be surprised and even troubled by the limited extent of your network in your life, today.

All these conclusions, as well as the small victories that arise from remembering people, may help you design a safe experiment to focus on a change you want to see.

To notice how different these drawings can be, take a look at:

…. some ecograms


You could, without too much further ado, take any one of those designs and do a freehand drawing on your own family and friends. Place yourself in the centre of a blank page. Use a simple circle to represent yourself.

You can develop your drawing by using line designs to show the ‘type’ of relationship: thus, you can use:

  • Thicker or darker lines to label a strong relationship.
  • You can do a similar thing by having the other person’s circle close to your own circle.  Closer and thicker lines could represent the strongest of relationships.
  • Dotted or curvy lines can be used to identify a stressful relationship and, as before, the most stressful ones could be further away as well as dotted.
  • Arrows to point to where attention goes. Who looks to you and to whom do you look (for guidance or affirmation).
  • Arrows pointing in both direction depict a balanced relationship where there is a mutual and cler communication and understanding; a regular and unblocked flow of influence between two people.
  • Different sizes for the circles you draw can represent the ‘importance’ of an individual to you – large for very important and small for limited to non-existent.

Although you place yourself at the centre of the drawing, you will include others and show how they inter-connect even if you are out of their immediate circle. Because these drawings are complicated, the  first edition may be difficult to follow, so feel free to edit, revisit and adjust your map – but hang on to each one – something else may emerge as you revisit the information at a later date.

Now these drawings can provide a lot of information. Also, they may challenge to think about the way your family and friends’ network, as it operates in the day-to-day.


Reflect on, and record your thoughts about:

THE BLUE PRINT: that’s actual picture you have drawn – the people you have identified. It’s what is evidently there to be seen.

THE RED PRINT: that’s often the missing bits that are not made clear; indeed, they are difficult to make clear in a drawing.  What is the ‘unstated’ part of your drawing, the hidden side. This need not be the ‘dark’ or sinister side – simply the unstated pattern in the drawing. Most families have secrets; some are sad and sinister, but many are just “we do not talk about those things ….“. What’s taken for granted? What is the impact on you, and your family, of any unspoken message?

THE GREEN PRINT: this is the emotional mapping in the network you have created. The drawing will often identify key people – mum, dad, sisters, brothers and cousins and aunts, but some aunts are emotionally more present to us than a parent might be.   Consider, for instance, the role of grand-parents: they may be central to your life, or a long way away. What about the grandparent you never got to know as they died too soon?

There can be a lot of clear blue (or even murky) water between the Blue Print and the Green Print. In line with some many other small, safe experiments, this complexity in our relationships is often better considered, rather than pushed away.  It is something that you might want to consider with an consultant – professional or close confidante.


When all this said and done, please keep in mind the useful phrase from Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP): the map is not the territory. Walking the walk is very different (we can all of us look at a map of Antarctica, but there are few Captain Scott’s and Ranulph Fiennes!).

Furthermore, maps are more malleable than the journey we actually take. What you look at, when you design an eco-gram,  is just one representation; your representation at that moment.  It is a changeable thing; try repeating the experiment months later, without looking at the original: see if this is so.

More importantly, a map is usually there to define a route to somewhere else. When you do that work – with your map – bear in mind the journey has yet to be made. It will involve a number of steps – some you can anticipate, and some you cannot. Some steps you will intend to take on the way; others will be unintended and the results will be concealed from you until after the event – after the journey has begun.

So, whenever you design safe experiments informed by your maps, however many ‘maps’ you design, nothing is quite the same until you walk the walk.  Even then, you cannot step into the same river, twice. Things change, however imperceptibly, even if we do not just notice. But you are able to put your small safe experiment into action and –  so can you DO, ACT and improve your skills of JUST NOTICING the results of actions? 

Further leads to consider


What is a nudge?

Road Map

Designing safe experiments.