Naturalising sense-making

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"Naturalising sense-making for me encompasses the early work on knowledge management, narrative-based sense-making and the more recent work on anthro-complexity. Indeed Cynefin® itself is defined as a sense-making framework. The distinguishing feature is the use of natural science as a constraint"

— Dave Snowden, "Twelvetide 20:10 - The fifth school", Cognitive Edge Blog (January 3, 2021)[1]


The "naturalising" school of sense-making is essentially pragmatic and is most commonly associated with collaborative sense-making tools, with organisational design and knowledge management praxis and with Anthro-complexity theory around decision-support. The school is most famously associated with the Cynefin® Framework (for decision making) and with the Sensemaker® tool (for narrative capture and for the real-time visualisation of patterns across narratives).

The school (one of five) [2]is distinguished by its use of natural science as a constraint on the development and generation of praxis to support those asking "how do I make sense of the world so that I can act in it?". This also implies the question of sufficiency: "I do I know enough"[3].

Introduction

Naturalised sense-making concerns domains which have been navigated and reflected upon for as long as direct perception has been shaped by distinctively human modes of wayfinding and the school is draws on the naturalising tradition in Philosophy. In short, it addresses the sense-making realms within which ordinary people, everywhere, have always navigated (and may always continue to navigate) their ordinary, everyday lives as well as the sense-making activities of Government, organisations and society.

The primary concern of naturalised sense-making is with supporting contextually-appropriate decision making, especially in relation to seemingly intractable problems in which context puts a premium on allow the emergence of shared understandings. One primary body of methods, associated with the Sensemaker® tool (case studies available), centre on self-interpreted micro-narrative and storytelling: on ways of tackling phenomena such as inattentional blindness (seeing only what we expect to see). That also supports Vector theory of change "What can we do tomorrow to create more stories like these and fewer like those?"[4]

Origins

"Naturalising sense-making for me encompasses the early work on knowledge management, narrative-based sense-making and the more recent work on anthro-complexity. Indeed Cynefin® itself is defined as a sense-making framework. The distinguishing feature is the use of natural science as a constraint"

— Dave Snowden, Twelvetide 20:10 - The Fifth School, Cognitive Edge Blog (January 3, 2021)[5]

Snowden has repeatedly noted how "dealing with uncertainty" within organisational design, knowledge management and management science drove the development of the theory, tools and methods. The earliest development pre-dates his work as the Director in IBM Institute for Knowledge Management (1996) but contemporary theory and praxis after he established Cognitive Edge in 2005 "to equip organizations to deal with seemingly intractable problems in uncertain settings."[6]

Development

The best known of all naturalised sense-making approaches is the Cynefin® Framework. Events marking the 21st Anniversary of this tool (including blogs, webinars and a book) provide a huge variety of ways into the practical application of naturalised sense-making.

Covid

The Covid-19 Pandemic triggered several developments which threw a spotlight on the current state of naturalised sense-making. For instance, Nigel Thurlow hosted a series of webinars in which Snowden and colleagues such as Jabe Bloom and Sonja Blignaut explored the state of Organisational Design [7]. Additional Cognitive Edge webinars around the Covid-19 pandemic were:

The EU Fieldguide

The Covid work led the most significant publication in the brief history of naturalised sense-making: a field guide to managing in Complexity and Chaos inspired by the Cynefin Framework. The publication is a shared effort between the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission’s science and knowledge service, and the Cynefin Centre. It aims to provide sense-making support to the European policymaking process.

Relation and coherence to/with other fields

By January 2021, Snowden was talking of his work having reached a “nexus point” in terms of cohesion and was mapping out a range of ongoing projects [8] He highlighted work on flexuous curves, on a body of methods around entanglement (the next generation of SenseMaker®) and on rethinking leadership from a naturalised sense-making perspective (perhaps incorporating thinking around distributed authority, around how power can be catalysed around issues of judgment and the validation of decision making (which links to semiotics, to affordances and to resilience).

Explorations

Commencing in 2019 Cognitive Edge initiated a series of Exploratories to investigate the linkages between naturalising sense-making and related theories of work. These include:

Snowden has also started to explore challenges around maintain coherence with naturalising sense-making as the field expands [9]

Related work

A range of people have explored the field from various different perspectives:

References

Link to other articles on this wiki if they are relevant

Articles

Specific articles can be referenced here

Blog posts

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Related concepts

Cases

Link to case articles here or third party material

Other references