Dave Snowden

What is Sense-making?

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This apparently innocent question was asked on the ActKM forum this morning. I replied and reproduce that response below. Michael Olsson, whose contirbutions to the forum have been a breath of life in the last few months , also contributed and reproduced this quote from Brenda Dervin:

…embodied in materiality and soaring across time-space …a body-mind-heart-spirit living in time-space, moving from a past, in a present, to a future, anchored in material conditions; yet at the same time with an assumed capacity to sense-make abstractions, dreams, memories, plans, ambitions, fantasies, stories pretences that can both transcend time space and last beyond specific moments of time space.

Now I love that (and I generally favour Dervin over Weick) because it combines the material with the transcendent, a point I tried to get across a few days ago.

My response to the question

I define it as “How do we make sense of the world so we can act in it” which carries with it the concept of sufficiency (knowing enough to make a contextually appropriate decision). In that respect I am bring complexity science and narrative into sense-making as a discipline.

Klein has a more elaborate version

Sensemaking is the ability or attempt to make sense of an ambiguous situation. More exactly, sensemaking is the process of creating situational awareness and understanding in situations of high complexity or uncertainty in order to make decisions. It is “a motivated, continuous effort to understand connections (which can be among people, places, and events) in order to anticipate their trajectories and act effectively

The two main academic players are Karl Weick and Brenda Dervin both of whom are very readable. Weick I think tends to a more normative and organisational approach while Dervin looks more at individuals and communication.

Overall I think Klein is right to emphasis situational awareness and he and I carried out a series of controlled experiments in this area for the Singapore Army which demonstrated increased weak signal detection using narrative based sense-making techniques and also formal or ritual dissent.

Dervin and I have had several conversations and she is currently attempting to get Weick or one of his students to create a three way dialogue given the different perspectives (organisational, communication, complexity)

  • Mari Enoch

    can i get a situation showcasing sense-making

  • Peter Sims

    Hi Dave. Thank you for the clarifying post. Do you have a source for the Klein quote? Thanks.

    • Dave Snowden

      Its a very old post so I can;t really remember. Probably ‘Sources of Power’ but you would have to cehck

  • http://www.betterrelations.de Riccardo_Wagner

    Hi Dave, your writing: “Dervin and I have had several conversations and she is currently attempting to get Weick or one of his students to create a three way dialogue given the different perspectives (organisational, communication, complexity)”

    I am currently writing a dissertation about sensemaking (building on Weick, Dervin and your work) an I was wondering if this conversation between you three ever happened and if there were some results. That would be highly interesting. Thx BW Riccardo

    • davesnowden

      Regrettably I gather Karl would not come out and play. Larry Browning has written on the links

      • http://www.betterrelations.de Riccardo_Wagner

        Thank you for the quick reply – I have seen the one from Browning & Boudes (The use of narrative to understand and respond to complexity: A comparative analysis of the Cynefin
        and Weickian models), thx & Best Wishes from Cologne/GER.

        • davesnowden

          I think Larry was a little to concerned to avoid emphasising any differences :-)

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