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List of methods / SenseMaker® use

MassSense is a near-real-time situational assessment tool that gathers perspectives on various situations, events, and/or decisions, facilitating the process of outlier and weak signal detection. This tool could also be used as part of a thought experiment to garner perspectives and hypothetical micro-scenarios to inform decision-making and scenario planning.

MassSense is an application of SenseMaker and it is based on the same core principles of self-interpretation, distributed cognition, disintermediation, and rapid feedback loops. The core difference with UnSurvey applications is that the main artifact being interpreted is not a micro-narrative but something that has been selected during the design process and presented to a diverse network for interpretation and response.

Name and history

Prior knowledge

Some familiarity with the general characteristics of SenseMaker is preferable, even for off-the-shelf applications.

Deeper knowledge of SenseMaker as a software and an approach is going to be necessary for the creation of custom-made MassSenses, either through a course or through an apprenticeship and experimentation.

Curiosity and individual exploration, as well as the willingness to explore the use of other methods in collective sense-making with the results.

The EU field guide for decision makers is a very useful starting place for those who are less familiar with the method in context.

Preparation and requirements to use this method

Facilitation skills Required

Although no skill in complex facilitation is required for the application of MassSense in itself, several methods that involve complex facilitation can be used in the collective interpretation of the results and the result action and probe planning.

Complexity principles such as avoiding premature convergence, the wisdom of crowds, and descriptive self-awareness are built into the method itself.

For certain applications, SenseMaker-specific training might be optimal.


  • Virtual, remote, and asynchronous method, although it can be applied on the ground, for example as part of a physical event
  • A network or access to a diverse sensor network to distribute the MassSense to.


  • SenseMaker subscription. This can be to a programme, a pre-designed instance of MassSense, or a more general SenseMaker license.
  • For application on the ground, devices might be needed for people to use to submit their assessments or collect those of others. Otherwise, participants can also access MassSense instances through links on their individual devices.

Participant Onboarding

No prior knowledge or preparation is required on the part of the participants, but some additional pre-work on engagement and their involvement in the process surrounding the use of MassSense would be beneficial.


For a MassSense, an artifact is selected for signification. This can be an infographic presenting news items or statements, an article, an image, or one or more scenarios.

This is presented to a diverse network of people and responses and interpretations are sourced over a short period of time. The interpretation takes place on the basis of signification frameworks that can be designed using pre-existing thematic sets (signifier libraries) or be custom-created based on theory and experience.

Often, additional micro-scenarios are sourced from the participants themselves. Decision-makers can have direct access to the results which can then be used to support the process of making decisions, to define and map groups of ideas and worldviews and their connections, or to be fed back to collective sense-making processes.

In more detail, but a slightly formulaic way, the process can be outlined as follows:

Put together a diverse sensing network Sensor networks are discussed in great detail on the Human sensor network page. There are two elements that are primary here: the one is having the dissemination of your MassSense set up, and the other is the element of diversity, which is key.

There is no need to wait for the need to launch the MassSense to start forming a sensor network, but having one in place is a helpful asset in complex situations and particularly in a crisis.

Design or select your MassSense There are several options when running a MassSense, including participating in a wider, pre-existing one, or designing something custom.

A complete MassSense design would include designing or selecting the artifact for response, the signification framework, any significant analytical categories, and any micro-scenario prompting questions.

Test all aspects of the collection This is a crucial and often-neglected step. Test everything, from any devices you will be using, to the saving process, to your data access, so that you can work out any potential issues before a larger-scale launch.
Launch the MassSense Depending on the specific use and need, the launch might be tied to a specific event or ritual or it might be more asynchronous and distributed.

Most MassSenses would be using a SenseMaker application and would involve circulating a browser collector link or app download instructions and a code. Both these elements can be in the form of a QR code or simplified URL. If using citizen journalists or other paid or volunteer assistants in collecting diverse perspectives, you might need to provide them with training, instruction, or devices just before this stage. If you are periodically pulsing out MassSenses to your network, pushing notifications or a similar approach might be helpful and analysis

Ongoing monitoring of patterns, visualisation, and perspectives Although a collection phase followed by an analysis phase is common in Unsurvey SenseMaker approaches, it is not optimal for fast-paced situations where you want to keep up with the pace of the change, and where live access to the MassSense results as they come in is important for the key decision-makers involved.
Collective sense-making around the data and micro-scenarios generated There are several potential uses for the data collected through a MassSense. They can be used for collective sense-making as part of an event, such as a workshop, and used as a component of other methods. They can also be made available to a wider audience through public sharing of data, to increase the diversity of perspectives in scanning as well as interpretation, and facilitate peer-to-peer knowledge flow.

Do's and Don'ts

Theoretical principles

Cognitive diversity and distributed cognition

Cognitive diversity and distributed cognition means that by getting multiple different perspectives on the same situation we are more likely to identify weak signals and outliers.

The great creative eras were those in which communication had become adequate for mutual stimulation by remote partners, yet was not so frequent or so rapid as to endanger the indispensable obstacles between individuals and groups or to reduce them to the point where overly facile exchanges might equalize and nullify their diversity.

— Claude Lévi-Strauss, Race and Culture, 1985: 24

Diversity, in this case, refers to multiple, intersecting, and overlapping kinds of diversity including of culture, background, or experience.

Wisdom of crowds

In order to harness the wisdom of crowds, it is important at the early stage to source individual assessments and avoid cross-connection. The reason for that can be seen in the famous experiment of the radiologists and the gorilla, where some of the 17% of people who did spot the gorilla on an x-ray changed their minds after speaking to those who did not. By keeping people separate at this stage and aggregating their perspectives without direct connection we are ensuring a greater diversity of viewpoints and reducing premature convergence (people agreeing or settling on a solution too early and therefore blinding themselves to alternatives).

MassSense and the Aporetic domain

Visual representation of exit paths our of the Aporetic domain

MassSense is one of the methods that enable navigation of the Aporetic domain in Cynefin, the domain where we do not know which domain we are in. It is used where the risk of inattentional blindness is high and under the assumption that we might be at the limits of the Chaotic and Complex domain and want to explore patterns in the system.


More Like this, Less Like That

Human sensor network

Micro-scenario Planning


  1. Managing complexity (and chaos) in times of crisis. A field guide for decision makers inspired by the Cynefin framework
  2. Drew, Vo & Wolfe (2013) Psychol Sci. 24(9) 1848-1853

Blog posts

  • Dave Snowden,Spotting anomalies,July 12, 2021: A reflection on the potential of MassSense for anomaly-spotting
  • Dave Snowden,Diversity & coherence, November 21, 2020: A post on the importance of cognitively and otherwise diverse sensor networks

Related methods and approaches

This section is intended for third party approaches that may help gain insight into the method. Any methods that are on the wiki should be referenced in the above sections.

Method card material

This material will be extracted for the method cards

Possible symbols or illustrations

Front page description

MassSense is an application of SenseMaker. It is a near-real-time situational assessment tool that gathers perspectives and micro-scenarios on various situations, events, and/or decisions, real or hypothetical.

Back of card summary

MassSense is based on the core principles of self-interpretation, distributed cognition, disintermediation, and rapid feedback loops. Unlike an Unsurvey or Journaling application of SenseMaker, the main artifact being interpreted is something relevant to the decision-maker’s concerns that has been selected during the design process (such as an infographic or scenario) and presented to a diverse network for interpretation and response. The diversity and mobilisation of the human sensor network is key to the method which can be applied as part of ongoing assessment or activated in a crisis and increase the capacity to scan for weak signals.

How can it be used?

for diagnosis

  1. Creation of human sensor networks

This particular use is outlined in the Field Guide during the assessment stage. In a crisis, the activation of a diverse human sensor network is a crucial early step. Having a human sensor network in place before the need to run a specific MassSense emerges is ideal, and once one has been activated it is a valuable resource to be maintained.

for analysis/understanding

  1. Strategy development and vector goal-setting
  2. Consultation and mass participation in decision-making
  3. Weak signal detection in a crisis or complex environment

for intervention

  1. Large scale facilitation
  2. Monitoring, adjustment and ongoing development of responsive interventions

Method Properties - Ratings

Represented by symbols - interpretation/voting scales are:

COST & RESOURCES: How resource-intensive is the Method in terms of materials and tools required, and thus costs?

  1. Requires only common office equipment (eg paper and pens)
  2. Requires simple facilitation materials (special hexies, printouts, whiteboards etc)
  3. Requires some inexpensive but specific tools and materials
  4. Requires moderate investment in tools or software to apply
  5. Requires significant investment in software or other specialist tools

COMPLEX FACILITATION SKILL: How much training and skill in complex facilitation does the Method require?

  1. No complex facilitation experience is required
  2. Some complex facilitation experience needed - practice in a safe space
  3. Should be mentored while developing complex facilitation skill
  4. Requires Mentoring until proven, familiarity with theory critical
  5. Advanced, requires deep knowledge of theory and experience

ENGAGEMENT GRADIENT: How challenging is engagement of participants into the Method likely to be?

  1. Ad hoc technique - can be used in multiple contexts with relative ease
  2. Requires time commitment but overall, engaging and not difficult to achieve
  3. Mild uncertainty or discomfort, may need work to keep people engaged
  4. Indirect/ambiguous method, requires engagement through sustained levels of uncertainty
  5. Challenging method – may incur resistance if people expect a more traditional approach