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List of methods / Cynefin® specific methods

Three points contextualisation (3-Points for short) is intended as the primary method to create the Cynefin® framework.

The method

Three points may make the four point version redundant as it uses a similar concept and should always be used in preference to the linear method which was originally designed and is still intended as a secondary, not a primary method. Three points offers the following advantages:

  1. Its use matches the sequence of how Cynefin® should be introduced
  2. It brings the confused domain into play from the start with the triple point metaphor providing a key way to understand its importance
  3. It breaks the 5-points method iteration and other assumptions
  4. By the method itself, it clearly identifies the difference between phase boundaries in the three primary domains and the gradient between Clear and Complicated
  5. It builds on the success of Butterfly stamping to help gain insight into Cynefin®

Prior knowledge needed

If you are facilitating the method you should be familiar with Cynefin® as a framework and know how to introduce it. No prior knowledge is needed for participants.


The input material, representative of the space that you want to explore should be available beforehand. Typically, it will come as the output of other methods such as those included in the Knowledge mapping assemblage. Gathering the material from other exercises may increase the diversity of views taken into account. Otherwise, you can create them as part of the session (see step 0 below) or you could use a Data set if you are just running an exercise to familiarise people with the method. You also need to consider the exemplar questions and in addition to the ones provided below, there are others on the Cynefin exemplar kit page.

In both virtual and physical environments, groups should work in parallel using the same material, cabaret-style, and complex facilitation principles should be applied. Note: each group should ideally have 5 to 7 people but can be smaller or a bit larger. Because you want at least three groups, you may need to be flexible if you have fewer than 15 participants.

In a physical environment you will need the following:

  • Work areas for each group without visibility between groups but not in separate rooms
  • A piece of paper of least one square meter for each group to use
  • Pink ribbons and maybe another colour or the equivalent (string, roll of painter's tape, ...)
  • Prepared hexies with topics (see above) - 1 hexie per topic.
    • Optionally, if you create the topics in the same working session as 3-Points (not ideal): pens
  • Blank hexies of the same size and shape as those in the exemplar kit

In a virtual environment you will need:

  • Whiteboard app that allows you to replicate the respective setup as in a physical environment
  • Individual working areas for each group, optimally on the same whiteboard, but placed apart in order not to influence each other
  • The prepared hexies with content and blank hexies


All groups work in parallel according to the following workflow.

STEP 0 (if the input was not prepared beforehand): Take up to 10 min and ask everyone to write down responses to the question you want to assess with 3-Points; just a few words, one answer/topic per hexie. As facilitator watch the group preparing the hexies and limit the time so that the total number of hexies is in the order of 15 to 25.
STEP 1: Organize participants into groups and all groups continue in their own working spaces making use of a copy of the same set of hexies going forward. Optimally 5 to 7 persons per group and groups should be chosen in order to maximize groupthink within the groups (in order to generate as diverse as possible 3-Points frameworks).
STEP 2: Each group looks at the data and picks one hexie as an exemplar for each of the following statements:
  • "We can find out what to do, either we all know or experts can help us to predict outcome" -> Place the hexie in the right hand side of working space.
  • "No way to predict the outcome, need to follow multiple approaches" -> Place hexie in the upper central part of working space.
  • "Critical to act immediately; things are random" -> Place hexie in the lower-left corner of working space.
Optionally leave it open for the groups to decide where to position the extreme exemplars. Where each group places the markers may be significant so telling them to debate that may help.

There are variations of the statements used to identify the exemplar items from the data set. You might have to adjust for your specific context.

STEP 3: Continue with the next item you have on a hexie and place it as a group in dynamic tension to your 3 exemplar hexies.

Continue with all other hexies, placing them relative to the exemplar hexies and all other already placed hexies.

STEP 4: Identifying boundaries

Use the pink ribbon to draw boundaries between what is more closely positioned towards the exemplar hexies versus what is more ambiguous / uncertain / positioned more towards the center.

Try to resolve the hexies in the center: For each of them discuss if it could be split in 2 (or more) hexies that could be placed in the areas towards the exemplar hexies. If splitting hexies into 2 or more you may need to re-draw the boundaries so that the new hexies end up in the appropriate areas.

In this way try to minimize the number of hexies in the central area as much as possible. Note that it is possible that there will be some hexies left in this central area and things that in whole or part could move in all directions.

This way the Cynefin® framework (the version with 3 types of systems - Ordered, Complex, and Chaotic) has emerged from the data.

You have the option of pre-zoning the worksheet to make this easier
STEP 5 (optional): Add the liminal zones

In order to identify items in the liminal zone between Complex and Ordered: Look at the items in Complex and try to create a (different type of) boundary within the domain separating items based on these statements:

  • "There are multiple competing hypotheses and we cannot resolve them within the given timeframe"
  • "We can identify one hypothesis and need to further elaborate it to see if it is really a good one"

In order to identify items in the liminal zone between Chaotic and Complex: Look at the items in Chaotic and try to create a (different type of) boundary within the domain separating items based on these statements:

  • "We are here deliberately in order to innovate or want to use the wisdom of the crowd"
  • "We do not want to be here and want to get out as soon as possible"
STEP 6 (optional): Create a division of Ordered (Clear / Complicated)

If you want to split the Ordered domain ("We can find out what to do, either we all know or experts can help us to predict outcome") into Clear and Complicated use the following statements to create this division:

  • "The right approach is obvious to basically everyone"
  • "We need expertise in order to find out what to do next"
Optimally use a differently colored ribbon to mark this boundary as it is of a different nature compared to the other boundaries.
STEP 7: Contrast models from the different groups

Get the participants to look at the frameworks created by the other groups and then discuss 3 questions as the full group:

  • What is different?
  • What is the same?
  • What surprises you?
STEP 8 (optional): Have a second round with different groups to discuss items where there is not agreement on placement of hexies

If you want to resolve the items which the groups have placed in different domains of the Cynefin® framework you can use only these items to run a second iteration of the 3-Points process. For this, you should rearrange the groups, this time maximizing for heterogeneity within the groups versus the homogeneity that was used initially.

Do's and Don'ts

You can run this exercise with one of the sample data sets - see Data sets

Virtual running

This method can be run both in a physical or virtual environment. If running in a virtual environment do ensure that each group has their own working space so that groups are independent and don't influence each other.



Blog posts


Data sets

The following training data sets are available to be used