Connecting the challenges

Each question of our daily life embraces a multiplicity of dimensions inseparable from each other. Yet these issues are most often dealt with separately. The sectoral approach to public policy is a daily example of this. The multiplicity of mechanisms, ignoring each other, accentuates the feeling that responses to people’s needs are not very effective.

In a now globalized system, taking into account the links between the different dimensions of a problem seems as delicate as it is indispensable.

It is therefore at the territorial level that we will be able to build responses to people’s needs, because it is at this level that we can perceive and manage relationships.

However, recognising the role of territories is not enough, the transition towards sustainable societies presupposes profound transformations in modes of representation and ways of doing things. In particular, these transformations imply a new capacity to imagine and manage reality.

The relational atlas tool helps to meet these challenges. It helps to manage complexity, by placing the relationship at the centre of understanding (in the etymological sense of grasping action together) and by visualising these relationships to facilitate action.

In a now globalized system, taking into account the links between the different dimensions of a problem seems as delicate as it is indispensable.

The relational atlas: both library of experiences and semantic cartography

Related to the family of systemic approaches, the relational atlas is a digital tool for semantic mapping. It allows to visualize the complexity of relationships at the scale of a territory in order to better manage them.

We talk about atlas because this tool allows you to look at reality from multiple angles ) and to adapt the level of approach of a problem according to different points of view (like the scales of a map).
It is "relational" because it connects the angles of approach of a problem and puts in resonance the experiences, analyses and practices of each one, so that each one can ask himself the good questions on this problem, according to his stakes.

The three main ideas to remember

1- The atlas considerably enriches access to the diversity of experiences contained in the documentary base by avoiding becoming locked into a thematic approach, discovering on the contrary similarities between documents and case files that apparently deal with subjects that are far removed from each other.

2- Its construction principles differ from current methods of graphic representation. Although it is related to the "mental maps" family, it differs from them by abandoning the principle of a tree representation. A "mental map" helps to classify in order to plan the actions to be carried out and to designate a person in charge of the action; the relational atlas makes it possible to apprehend the relations between the components of the territory and the angles of approach by which these components are approached.

3- In accordance with the importance given to the relationship, it is not the accounts of experiences that are directly linked to each other, but the terms used to describe them (called descriptors). Visually, the relational atlas thus differs from the usual banks of experiences by inviting us to focus less on the direct objects mentioned in a case sheet than on the descriptors that account for its different dimensions.

In order to visualize the complexity to better understand and manage it, the relational atlas indexes all the documents (experience records, analyses, proposals, resources...) published in the CITEGO document collection.

The principles governing the construction of the atlas

A matrix crossing the components of a territory and the angles of approach of governance to read the territorial ecosystem

The fruit of more than thirty years of reflection (read the Short history of the relational atlas.
At the origin of the relational atlas, two tools: the Coredem and the Desmodo software.
The first one aims at aggregating a diversity of experiences coming from several resource sites, while the second one allows the graphic representation of links between concepts in the framework of conferences or meetings in order to facilitate the synthesis of discussions and the passage to action.

The structure of the atlas stems from this software and the desire to build a "Coredem of territories". It is based on a "systemic reading of the territory from a governance approach" and aims to apprehend the complexity of a territory through knowledge of its components (actors, institutions, physical characteristics, social data, economic profile, etc.) and the description of the relationships between these components, from a governance perspective.

What relationships are we talking about? The territory is a network of actors who act and interact. However, each actor has only a partial, truncated perception of the territory and of the problems it faces. He only perceives part of the relationships that make up the territory, which hinders action. The atlas proposes to focus on the description of relationships rather than on related objects: what links these two ideas? These two policies? These two actors?

To do this, the atlas abandons the tree structure for the lattice, in the sense of the theory of ordered sets: "every pair of elements has an upper and a lower bound". Each element is linked, at least, to two other elements.

We call these elements "descriptors". These descriptors index documents (case study, proposal and analysis sheets). The descriptor refers to "what the document is about" rather than the general theme.


By way of illustration, two experiences whose generic theme is "energy" can be described, one by ’Promotion d’alternatives économiques’ because it talks about the setting up of cooperatives and the other by ’Politiques énergétiques territoriales et transition’ because it talks about the setting up of a system of local production of renewable energy.


As with a geographical atlas, the more users "zoom in" on a territorial issue, the more detail they go into, and therefore the longer and more precise the descriptors can be.

The characterization of the relationship by the increasingly fine description of these elements allows the definition of sets of reading of a problem (all the elements linked by this relationship). The atlas is therefore a tool to help in the understanding of the territorial ecosystem.

The relational atlas, a tool of the mediation cycle

The relational atlas is a tool of CITEGO’s mediation cycle "from practice to practice". It is a tool of :

  • Navigation between the documentary resources of the site:
    To be informed, to find additional information, to widen the searched themes...
  • Pedagogy on a given theme : To visualize/image complexity, to link, to feed on the experience of others...
  • Methodology by going through a number of stages: the collection of experience, the capitalisation of experience, the dissemination of experience and its implementation in other places.

The atlas stimulates dialogue between the actors on the problems they face on their territory, in order to help them define their action strategy. It is a tool that encourages their autonomy and responsibility in the construction of their own answers, according to their context and without prejudging what their "solution" will be. The atlas gives them access to a plurality of experiences and analyses on more or less similar problems, listed in the document collection.

Video presentation of the atlas