Estuarine framework

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Estuarine mapping is the third major framework in the Cynefin pantheon. It is based on the idea of an estuary (but not a delta) in which the water flows in and flows out so there are things you can do only at the turn of the tide. For example, there may be granite cliffs which you only have to check every decade or so, sandbanks that are checked daily, and so on. Estuary is a rich metaphor and there are four types of estuaries.


This was developed as a counter to traditional approaches to strategy that are fixed in nature and reflects the key principles of change in a complex environment.

  1. Understanding where we are, and starting journeys with a sense of direction rather than abstract goals
  2. Understanding, and working with propensities and dispositions, managing both so that the things you desire have a lower energy cost than the things you don’t
  3. Initiating and monitoring micro-nudges, lots of small projects rather than one big project so that success and failure are both (non-ironically) opportunities

It embodies the principles of Vector Theory of Change


The process has a number of steps

  1. Map the constraints
  2. Energy cost of change and time to change
  3. The counter-factual border
  4. Vulnerability border
  5. Acting on constraints and constructors
  6. Set a direction of travel
  7. Combine the micro-projects into portfolios