Actions to Identity Map

Next up, we’ll tackle the Actions to Identity Map. This will help us when we have a go at the Re-Authoring Map because it’s part of it!

Specifically, this is a micro map that can help us navigate from The Landscape of Action to The Landscape of Meaning and Identity.

Such a journey can feel like too much of a stretch when an action has been named and you then ask something like “What does it say about you that you were able to do this?” Or “What important meaning does this action carry that made it so significant?” Or “What key values were involved that made this important to do?”  and the response is “I don’t know” or just a shrug, especially from young people. So the Actions to Identity map scaffolds the distance between actions and aspects of identity – it makes the questions  smaller, easier to respond to, which eases the journey from actions to identity.

This micro-map isn’t in the book but Michael White often taught it in workshops.

Check out the video that features Holly and a trip that takes her from an action to important matters of her identity. Then find an opportunity to practise it and get commenting!

Actions to Identity Map

The conversation moves up the list, from the bottom to the top.


COMMITMENTS            Principles that you stand for and that shape your actions

PRINCIPLES                  Ways of acting and being that you believe we should all live by

HOPES + DREAMS           Ideas about how life or work could be. Images of what might be possible

VALUES + BELIEFS           Ways of acting or being that you feel are right at a particular time

INTENTIONS + PURPOSES    What you’re aiming to do or achieve through a particular action


Exercise: From Actions to Identity OR From the Trivial to the Significant

An exercise with one interviewer and one interviewee.

  1. Identify a seemingly trivial recent action that the interviewee took that was ok or positive for them.
  1. Ask about the Intentions and purposes behind that action:
    What made you decide to do this?
    What were you thinking beforehand?
    What intention or purpose did you have?
    How come you decided on this action or choice rather than some other?
  1. Ask about Values and Beliefs behind the intentions and purposes. Remember to keep pausing for the interviewers to discuss progress and strategy:
    What was important to you about doing this or about the intention or purpose you had?
    What’s precious or valuable to you that influenced you here?
    What is it that you believe in strongly enough to influence what you did here?
    Tell me about what mattered to you most here.
  1. Ask about the Hopes and Dreams that played a part in this:
    What were you hoping could happen from doing this?
    Do you have some dreams about what could be possible if you stick with doing things for this reason?
    What possibilities could there be for your future if you carry on in this direction?
    How might the future look better if your ideas here come off?
  1. Ask about the Principles that might be connected to these hopes and dreams. Remember that, for this exercise, Principles are like Values but are context free rather than context specific or dependent:
    Do you have thoughts about how the world might be a better place if others shared your values and hopes here?
    Do you reckon that others should act more in this way?
    What general beliefs do you hold about how people should act in these situations?
    Are there some big ideas you subscribe to that are touched on here?
  1. Ask about the Commitments that are linked to these principles. Remember, commitments are principles that are frequently expressed in action:
    Do you do other things that reflect this principle?
    How else does this principle get taken up or put to work in your life?
    Tell me about some actions you take that are in line with this principle.
    Have you found contexts of life (e.g. at work) where you have done other things for the same general reason?

You can download a PDF of this exercise here.

“Story-maps... are sensitive to the mysterious fourth and fifth dimensions of cartography – the relationship of mapmaker to landscape, and the relationship of map-reader to map.”  - Robert Macfarlane, Off the grid: Treasured Islands
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