Dave Snowden

Aspects of narrative work: II

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I made some progress on patterning the various approaches to narrative today, but less on the two encyclopaedia entries I have to write and the email backlog is till over 500.  But progress of any type is to be welcomed, especially as sitting in a chair form more an hour or so is agony at the moment (sciatica I am told brought on my that fall on the South West Coastal Path)  

I've made two changes to yesterdays triad.  Firstly I have changed Experience to Recording (and Communicate becomes Communicating to match}; Secondly I have changed Research to Research and Insight (RI) as indicated yesterday.  Experience includes a considerable sense of understanding hence that change.  So that gives me the three specific types as follows:

  • Knowledge management, in its normal use (not how it should be I hasten to add) involves recording experiences and codifying them for subsequent use.  There has been a fair amount of narrative work here including NASA, Shell and others.  In general journalists or other professions interviewed key staff and transcribed the stuff or preserved it on video.  In both the cases I mention here I said at the time they would be a one year wonder and was proved right but more on that later.
  • Story telling is as old as the hills, and in modern days we have seen the current generation of profession story tellers find a more profitable market in teaching executives how to tell better stories.  Seminars and books abound many of which fall into the self-help and hyped sales bracket.  But there are sound cases with festivals and other activities bringing together old practice with current need.  I've taken part in a few and I think there is utility, but I am less sure on scalability.
  • Research and Insight belongs in a long tradition of qualitative research.  It ranges from the extreme post-modern anti-mangerialist approach of people like David Boje, to the more considered and reflective work of Yiannis Gabriel and Barbara Czarniawska.  We have a range of methods for longitudinal research ranging from ethnographic techniques to detailed tagging of key words and concepts in tools such as NVivo along with a growing body of algorithmic methods of interpreting text such as sentiment analysis.

From those I can move onto three hybrid cases

  • Organisational Story-Telling of the kind I referenced yesterday as “Little S” fits here.  Anecdotes are collected, workshops allow their interpretation and executives are taught to use that material to better communicate their ideas.   A lot of this was developed in the Cynefin Centre and IKM within IBM by myself, Sharon and Cynthia in the main; others in that network have taken it up since.  The idea is to allow people to share anecdotes not stories and use templates combined with telling and retelling to improve communication.  You don't train people to tell stories as that can't be done with less than a proper apprenticeship, but you use natural processes in shortened timelines to achieve the same results/
  • Use Cases are a part of my past as an systems designer and programmer.  They combine recording information with understanding the needs that underpin the stories.   It involves What If and sometimes Just So stories to define needs and against which to test developments on a&nbsnbsp;would what we are developing enable this story to be told basis.  It used to be fairly simple but now there are elaborate methods and procedures.  Many uses are more flow charts and stakeholder goal summaries than stories.  We also get a lot of separation of actors from systems.  Agile brought us back to user stories which is good news, but the granularity remains an issue, but more on that in a later post.
  • Research as action is not necessarily the same thing as Action Research.  Here the research is linked to specific goals.  In the Development community where we do a lot of work, the link between research, monitoring and evaluation is key.  Research is about understanding, but also about communicating that understanding to stakeholders in order to change things,  Its not insight for its own sake.  Communication here as is much about advocacy as it is about clarity and we have the whole issue of science which is problematic in its own right.

So that gets me to a patterning of the whole space.  Next up I want to look at how by changing the granularity of the material, and the means of interpretation we can get all three for the price of one. That will get me onto the self-signfied micro-narrative approach which is central to SenseMaker®/  But that is for the next post in this series.