Narrative capture

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Narrative capture applies in all circumstances where lived, tacit, experiential knowledge is important, or where the narrative material can serve as a basis for other sense-making, for example in Attitudinal mapping. In most of those occasions, the word "narrative" refers to micro-narratives, discussed in more detail below.

Narrative capture is one of the most common uses of SenseMaker® in its unsurvey mode. However, non-software based captures are also possible, with the most common method being perhaps Anecdote circles.

Name and history

The use and significance of narratives in sense-making in the Cynefin body of practices pre-dates Cynefin itself and goes back to earlier days in knowledge management [1][2][3][4]. In its earlier forms, the method also predates SenseMaker and refers to other forms of collecting narratives present in organisations. What is shared, however, through the history of those approaches is the focus on narratives "in the wild" - aka, the small stories and anecdotes that are already being told and circulating, rather than larger, purposefully created stories. Facilitated methods, such as Anecdote circles, already include elements of sense-making around narratives, and go beyond simple capture or collection. This tendency, however, is fully realised in the practice of self-signification in SenseMaker, where the capture of narrative is accompanied by the addition of layers of meaning and interpretation by the person who shared it.

Prior knowledge

A knowledge of narrative methods and an understanding of what narrative is, how it operates, and why it matters is beneficial for any of the different applications of narrative captures. Self-guided knowledge can be obtained from key resources such as the ones linked in this page, the oft-referenced work of Max Boisot, and other key resources mentioned in the linked works. Formal training is also available.


Workflow is highly variable and depends on the specific methods chose for narrative capture - please refer to the wiki pages linked under "references".

Theoretical principles


The term “micro-narrative” draws attention to the types of narratives that are captured in most complexity-based capture methods. These narratives are small stories shared in an everyday, casual way, sometimes also referred to as “anecdotes”. The word anecdote here is not dismissive but highlights the importance of those daily casual stories in communication. The word “micro” highlights their everyday nature, their size, as well as their multiple and fragmented nature - “micro” can contrast to more overarching “grand” narratives.

Narrative between tacit and explicit knowledge

Drawing from the work of Max Boisot [5], narrative capture explores the connections between abstraction, codification, and diffusion: highly abstract and highly codified knowledge is very quickly shared with those who are familiar with the code and abstraction, but loses context and specificity. Tacit, experiential knowledge on the other hand takes a long time to develop and cannot be easily shared without a long period of experience and apprenticeship. Narrative allows us to mediate between the two: stories can transmit tacit knowledge that cannot be shared any other way, add context to codified knowledge, and prepare for the creation of further knowledge, alongside the transmission of information. Narrative capture is, therefore, very important in the area of knowledge management allowing access to aspects of knowledge that neither more nor less formalised approaches allow.

Narrative sense-making

Sense-making is defined as “making sense of the world so we can act in it” and narrative is a very important aspect of doing that. It is important to think of “narrative” not just as a noun, but as a verb - an active process of making sense and making meaning. In the often-used quote from Alasdair McIntyre, “there is no way of giving us an under- standing of any society, including our own, except through the stock of stories which constitute its initial dramatic resources”. This is why a lot of the narrative capture methods listed below include aspects not just of narrative collection or creation, but of narrative sense-making and interpretation, whether it is through signification in SenseMaker, the extraction of themes in anecdote circles, or the two-stage emergence in Archetype extraction. Caution is advised when it comes to methods that collect narratives but do not activate the sense-making component.


  1. Attitudinal mapping
  2. SenseMaker
  3. Archetype extraction
  4. Anecdote circles

Blog Posts

Articles & Other references

  1. Snowden, D. (1999). “The Paradox of Story: Simplicity and Complexity in Strategy.” Scenario and Strategy Planning, 1(5), 16-20. November
  2. Snowden, D. J. (2000). The art and science of Story or ‘Are you sitting uncomfortably?’: Part 1: Gathering and harvesting the raw material. Business Information Review, 17(3), 147-156
  3. Snowden, D. J. (2000). The art and science of Story or ‘Are you sitting uncomfortably?’: Part 2: The Weft and the Warp of Purposeful Story. Business Information Review, 17(4), 215-226.
  5. Boisot, M. (1995). Information Space (RLE: Organizations) (1st ed.). Routledge.