Dave Snowden

So what are we about?

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The first of three posts with some draft content for the new web site

Cognitive Edge acts as a research centre for a distributed network of independent and in house consultants. We create methods and tools together with associated training and support. Our overall philosophy is apply learning from the natural sciences to social systems. In keeping with that philosophy we seek to move on from the case-based approach that dominates social and management science, shifting to a model in which theory and practice coevolve to create effective and resilient solutions to intractable problems in both government and industry.

Our methods centre around the Cynefin framework which builds on the science of complex adaptive systems. Within that general field we see human complexity as a different field from those found in nature, differentiated by the role of language, intelligence and identity. As such we also draw on the cognitive sciences and the biological end of anthropology along with other disciplines. The practical applications, demonstrated to date in many different sectors and environments, focus on enabling people to make enough sense of their situation in order to act in it.

Our software, SenseMaker® has been described as the first instance of distributed ethnography. We focus on allowing the collection of micro-narratives and other material from target audiences, but critically transfer the primary interpretation of that material to those who create it. That means that SenseMaker® provides a quantitative approach to what has traditionally been a qualitative area. In turn that allows for rapid scaling to large populations at low cost, the creation of real time feedback loops to support decision making, peer-to-peer knowledge flows and whole of population engagement in understanding context. It allows then for both deep analysis and decision-focused sense-making, combining visual patterns with insightful from examples from the field. The design supports organisations in making sense of complex environments for improved decision-making, strategy development, and monitoring. Applications include culture & attitudinal mapping, organisational change, market research, knowledge management, and impact monitoring

Our network has grown over the best part of a decade to include independent consultants, academics and in house teams in major corporations and government. All of those network members have been trained by us or our partners and are able to provide Cognitive Edge-based services to their customers without support. The diversity in the network means that network members now have access among themselves to partnerships with experts in sectors, subjects and geographies. The original idea for the network was to create an alternative to the bench culture of large consultancy firms by giving people access to an extended network of specific skills and capabilities. Since 2013 we have started to create nodes in that network to provide high value services in both geographies and offerings.

Our funding comes from license fees for SenseMaker®, training and consultancy support of the network. We do not receive money from University funds or government grants, so we are not a charity! We do however support a range of projects in the development sector and elsewhere.

Just to be clear, this is very much a first draft. Comments please either as comments or via email

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