Thinking differently for SenseMaker®

February 18, 2015

A rather novel to start to the day; discovering that the Cathedral Road B&B I am staying in is owned and managed by Charlotte Church’s father.  We exchange comments on dealing with wayward daughters and the loss to Welsh Rugby of Gavin Henson.  This is a part of South Wales I love, the lack of pretension and the refusal to take fame seriously.   I remember a long conversation about rugby with Tom Jones when I was luck enough to sit next to him on a flight back from Milan several years ago.  Breakfast over it was down to Atlantic Wharf for a meeting with the CEO of Cardiff Council then back up to the SWALEC stadium to complete day two of our project to create a range of NHS related projects ranging from patient care to obesity management along with many others.   I’ll be back in three weeks time to finalise this, but for the moment we have a good range of projects with committed participants – all part of the Small Countries project. There is a greater intimacy in Wales around the NHS and a different attitude to its criticality than you find in the South East of England.  I think its part of the tribal culture that is so much a part of celtic culture in contrast with the more atomistic and mercantile culture that grew up in and around London.  But then I am biased ….

What I was really pleased about is that we managed to get a large group of people to move away from the survey mentality.   I emphasised some key aspects of SenseMaker® project design and they were all on board by the end of the day; evidenced by their project definitions more than verbal compliance.   Those aspects can be summarised as follows:

  1. The whole point of scalable (or distributed) ethnography is that you scale it.  Journalling and Citizen Journalism not only gather more data points but they are more authentic to the day to day experience of people that responding to a survey.
  2. Focusing on description not evaluation opens up far more possibilities.   Experts tend not only to assess data instrumentally, but design surveys on the assumption of intentionality and honesty.  Both of which can be challenged.  Properly used SenseMaker® allows significant numbers of fragmented descriptions to open up interventional possibilities that would be closed off or ignored by ​premature evaluation.
  3. The signifiers in Cynefin should be derived from concepts associated with the field of study, maintaining essential ambiguity that allows people to interpret ambiguous material.   Eliminating ambiguity (which tends to be the case with categories and key words) reducing description, makes meaning-making difficult.

There was a whole lot more, but those were the three essentials.  Overcome those, or better still understand them in practice and things go easily  Force a novel method into the structures of traditional research and you are unlikely to succeed. Then the worker blames the tools despite having used them untrained and unaware of their nature.

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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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