What gives you hope for the future?

August 19, 2021

That’s what we’re asking communities around the world. Introducing A New Community Engagement Demo SenseMaker® Collector

Our new SenseMaker® collector focuses on what’s important to communities and what gives them hope, as part of The Cynefin Centre’s Citizen Engagement & Democratic Innovation programme.

The collector demonstrates how SenseMaker® can be used to gather stories about what it’s like to live in local communities. People are invited to share a specific story in their community and answer a few questions about it. Open engagement with citizens and community members such as this gives a rich picture of community life. The data will be open for download and use publicly.

We’re still in a pandemic that has wreaked havoc on people’s health (physical and mental), and we’re digging ourselves deeper into climate and ecological crises as outlined again in the latest IPCC report. Democracy is under threat; in the UK, this takes the form of a new bill outlawing all but officially approved protests, and new restrictions being placed on voting. Trust in government and institutions continues to drop. We need to engage citizens, communities and each other more than ever.

Try out the demo collector here. You can also view the data via our open dashboard, which makes the data easy to interpret with triads, charts and word clouds. You can access the dashboard without an account, but if you have an account, you’ll be asked to sign in. You need to go to the top right corner and click ‘All data’, or filter by a desired range.

How to select ‘All data’ in the data dashboard.

A triad with data collected via the local project demo collector illustrating what made respondents feel positive about the story they shared.

A piechart with data collected via the local project demo collector 

Why is community engagement important?

Giving community members a chance to raise their voices and be heard, by each other and those who serve them, can be immensely empowering.It sets them up to continue being a proactive force for good in their communities, which in turn creates strong and resilient communities capable of  tackling challenges head on.

The effectiveness of many public/community interventions and policies depends on collaborating with citizens and communities. Failure to do so can lead to people feeling  powerless to effect decisions which impact their lives, they will be disenfranchised and have no desire to make an intervention work. On the other hand, engaging citizens can help to avoid expensive mistakes by drawing on their knowledge and experience early on in the planning stage, and getting the buy-in from the local community typically results in a much higher success rate. As such, collaboration between communities and decision-makers is essential to bolster our democracies and to create the society we want to live in: effective, democratic, and healthy.

How has SenseMaker® been applied in a community setting?

From libraries to neighbourhoods, cities to valleys, SenseMaker® has been applied in a diverse range of contexts. Here are just some of our community engagement use cases:

Valley Stories

The Valley Stories project asked ‘What is it like to live in the Welsh valleys?’ More specifically, the key questions were what’s going well, what’s not going so well, what matters most and what to do about it. The project encouraged people to explore and understand key issues in their community, and to create new ways of addressing these issues together.

This project was set up by the Welsh Government to support community-led transformation in the Valleys. To participate, people could take part as an individual or a community group – such as a school or sports centre – and record their day-to-day experiences of learning and working within their community, including their needs and hopes.

Valley Stories focused on community development, by holding an intergenerational workshop which was attended by over 35 locals. They discussed what matters to community members and how local people, services and the Valleys Task Force plan could best address these issues. Using the stories collected via SenseMaker workshop, participants categorised stories into desirable and not desirable. Then they picked out the main insights from the stories and used that to come up with solutions to create more positive experiences and less negative ones. These insights informed local and strategic planning, as well as resource allocation.

City of Malmö

Residents of Malmö were asked ‘What do you see as the biggest challenge or opportunity facing Malmö in the future? Please tell us about an experience that has influenced your thoughts?’ Other questions included what matters to you in living here and how can the experience of living here be improved.

This project was designed to bring to light the everyday yet important experiences that happen in the city, to help address the biggest issues and opportunities. The goal was to start meaningful conversations, create useful material that can be used to encourage people to explore key issues in their city, and to create new ways of addressing these issues together.

Photo credit: dailyscandinavian.com/malmo-swedens-lively-multicultural-city/

Open Access

This is an open data project and the anonymous data collected can be used publicly without restriction. Based on this collection, we will create public and open reports for anyone to read, share, and use. We will share the data on a public dashboard currently being developed for SenseMaker® users.

How can I use this collector in my context?

Just get in touch! You can start with a framework right off the shelf as part of a standard package and customise it to suit your needs. You can then decide what assistance you require for the interpretation of your data and for designing your future actions. If you have questions, want to discuss a custom project or get a quote, just reach out to us. We offer competitive rates for nonprofits and governments.

Stay tuned to hear more about how to create a citizen sensor network and our case studies.

If you want to be part of a thriving community of changemakers and citizen engagement enthusiasts and practitioners, join our thriving Citizen Engagement & Democratic Innovation community practice group in ‘Our Haunt’. It’s open to premium and centre members. If you are not already a premium member you can sign up here.


Fisher, G. S., & Hotchkiss, A. (2008). A model of occupational empowerment for marginalized populations in community environments. Occupational Therapy in Health Care, 22(1), 55-71.

Gaventa, J., & Barrett, G. (2012). Mapping the outcomes of citizen engagement. World development, 40(12), 2399-2410.

Jagosh, J., Macaulay, A. C., Pluye, P., Salsberg, J. O. N., Bush, P. L., Henderson, J. I. M., … & Greenhalgh, T. (2012). Uncovering the benefits of participatory research: implications of a realist review for health research and practice. The Milbank Quarterly, 90(2), 311-346.

Nabatchi, T., & Leighninger, M. (2015). Public participation for 21st century democracy. John Wiley & Sons.

Uomoto, J. M. (1986). Examination of psychological distress in ethnic minorities from a learned helplessness framework. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 17(5), 448.

Zimmerman, M. A. (1990). Toward a theory of learned hopefulness: A structural model analysis of participation and empowerment. Journal of research in personality, 24(1), 71-86.


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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.


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