Looking back at the Covid MassSense; Part 1: Introduction

February 15, 2023

I’m starting to hope that this blog is the start of something that will become a tradition. The climate change (nature, sustainability, biodiversity, take your pick) programme periodically releases an open collection. Such collections invite participation from absolutely anybody and offer the possibility of collecting targeted data and accessing them at no cost. The first and original such collection was the Acorn Project, followed by a series of blog posts on the results. Then, amidst lockdowns and uncertainty, the Covid MassSense was released. The post you are reading now is launching a new blogging series to discuss some of the results – you can expect around six or seven, released roughly every other week. And of course, as this collection is closing now, a new open project will be released under the theme of hope, a subject that has been on our minds for a while

What is a MassSense and what is this MassSense?

But before we get to the good stuff, some inevitable stage setting so anyone can make sense of this. We will be looking at the results of a MassSense, so I’ll start by explaining what that is. Not long ago, my colleague Beth wrote a blog post covering the various applications of SenseMaker, which I recommend going off and reading. But to summarise the main idea here, a MassSense is a way to employ diverse points of view to assess a single “artefact” (an image, a scenario, an infographic, or even a single phrase). This artefact usually represents a broader theme or area of interest. SenseMaker signification visualises the participants’ assessment in ways we will explore in the upcoming posts. Usually, an invitation to generate micro-scenarios about the future accompanies this assessment. Since, in this case, we wanted to see what people thought about a specific issue, rather than seeking to hear a broader spectrum of experiences, a MassSense was the natural SenseMaker engagement mode. 

The theme in this specific MassSense was the relationship between the pandemic (especially in the earlier stages of starting to cope with it) and climate change. In the early days of the pandemic, it was impossible to avoid thinking about this topic – as “nature returned” in cities and people marvelled at their ability to travel less, we had started to wonder how a collection of their understanding of the situation and a longer-term projection would look. This is that collection. The relationship of the pandemic with climate change was expressed in the choice of a sense-making artefact: a graph representing CO2 levels during 2020, the insert image here. A series of images representing different aspects of the pandemic experience (which you will see in the following post) followed this graph. Before we look at the data, we should highlight some of their characteristics as a whole. The first is diversity; in a human sensor network, diverse viewpoints are crucial in identifying different aspects of the problem. Here, we might have a degree of cognitive diversity, but other dimensions of our population are more homogeneous. 

Some overall data and a plan

At the point of writing, with the collection close to closing, 303 entries have been collected. This number might increase by a bit as the site is still open. The gender distribution of participants is mostly evenly divided, with slightly more men than women. However, Northern Europe (47%) and the US/Canada (31%) predominate among locations. I think it is reasonable to assume that the majority of the audience is fairly similar to the audience of this blog and website. All future discussion then needs to come with the awareness that this is not a systematic sample, carefully collected, and it isn’t representative of anything. Still, it is varied enough to suggest some compelling associations without claiming that they are proving something or are generalisable. Another implication to highlight is that this MassSense eventually took on a slightly retrospective character. Although it launched in the heat of the pandemic, later responses looked backwards at events rather than being in the middle of them. Such a retrospective perspective can make a big difference in assessment.  

Each post in the series will focus on an insight or theme and will try to go further than the previous Acorn Project series in two ways. Firstly, I will connect the insights from our data to findings published elsewhere on that same theme and draw some broader reflections from them. A second novelty here is statistical testing. Statistical verification for links or associations spotted through SenseMaker has always been possible. It isn’t a replacement for sense-making – just more fuel in its furnace. But for what it’s worth, every association presented in the following series is statistically significant. Finally, similarly to the Acorn project series, this first post will also serve as an index: as I add new posts to the series, they will all be collected and linked from this one, so they can be accessed from a single location in the future.

PS As this open project wraps up and the Hope project starts, we are experimenting with a new possibility: making all pre-existing open participation projects available to be reopened and reused, still at no cost. So if you want to use them for a significant collection opportunity that corresponds to your needs, get in touch.


Banner image by Tara Scahill on Unsplash

In-text image source cited in caption


Part 2: What could change and how?

Part 3: Age and the anticipation of change

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts

About the Cynefin Company

The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


Social Links: The Cynefin Company
Social Links: The Cynefin Centre
< Prev

Narrative enhanced practice 2 of 2

- No Comments

As promised I did try and get all of this into a process map last ...

More posts

Next >
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram