Jump to navigation Jump to search

SenseMaker® is an online crowd-sourcing research tool for collecting and self-interpreted micro-narratives and for discovering actionable insights beyond surveys and focus groups. It offers a science-based approach to guide collective impact and leverage the strengths of being human in uncertain times.


“SenseMaker® is a form of distributed ethnography, as it transfers the onus of interpretation of narratives from the researcher to participants. Through this self-signification, SenseMaker® removes ethnographic coding and expert re-interpretation, as participants assign meaning to their own micro-narratives, which enables large scale explorations, reduces researcher bias, and allows for more objective analysis.”

— Van der Merwe et al, Making Sense of Complexity: Using SenseMaker® as a Research Tool[1], Systems. 2019; 7(2):25.

SenseMaker® in a proprietary tool and ecosystem of associated participatory methods connected with Naturalised Sense-making. Both the tool and the methods draw on theory and praxis from within Anthro-complexity.

The aim with any SenseMaker® approach is to democratise the research and engagement process by placing the respondent at the intersections of statistics and storytelling. Respondents are asked to be the owner of their own micro-narratives. The tool can be used as a platform for real-time distributed network response to key issues or in defining collective insight with a view to taking action.


“SenseMaker® originated in the field of knowledge management and was specifically developed to explore emergent narrative patterns in the complex domain of Cynefin, although its use is not confined to this domain.”

— Van der Merwe et al, Making Sense of Complexity: Using SenseMaker® as a Research Tool[2], Systems. 2019; 7(2):25.

By 2000, John Marlan Poindexter was articulating the problem that Sensemaker® would eventually be developed to address. By 2004, the intelligence agency in Singapore was taking this challenge to Dave Snowden and encouraged development of a system for scanning for weak signals in complex environments.[3]

By December 2012, Tony Quinlan and Dave Snowden were using Sensemaker® with the United Nations Development Programme in Bratislava[4]

How it Works

“SenseMaker® entails probing to solicit micro-narratives from the system context, then looking for emergent patterns from the narratives, and responding with pattern management to explore what Juarrero refers to as the “adjacent possible”

— Van der Merwe et al, Making Sense of Complexity: Using SenseMaker® as a Research Tool[5], Systems. 2019; 7(2):25.

SenseMaker® replaces immersive interviews with micro-narratives sourced from people’s lived experiences. This may be through facilitators from the community or through the use of a collection tool on webpage or smartphone application. The research questions are built into the tool as signifiers which allow micro-narratives to be plotted in space. A

Participating in the Wiki project is an opportunity to

Have fun
Triangle without any margin.svg
Learn useful stuff
Connect with interesting people

As each micro-narrative is collected, a triad (as above) is offered to allow signification. As the respondent selects where the micro-narrative should sit, the tool generates numerical coordinates in ways which link qualitative and quantitative data and allow the display and analysis of mathematical patterns in map form.

Applications and Cases Studies

SenseMaker® has been used in business, government, development and in research sectors around the world.

Cases have been grouped into:[6]

  1. Monitoring, evaluation, and measuring impact;
  2. Mapping of ideation cultures, mind-sets, and attitudes;
  3. Detecting trends;

Case studies can be found on a range of independent websites including:

Please check the Cases page on this Wiki for updates.

Ethical Considerations

Ethical considerations around epistemic justice might drive researchers towards narrative based approaches to sense-making which are rooted in self-interpretation, but the tool and methods have been developed for the purpose of interventions in Anthro-complexity. For this reason, even suggesting deployment of the tool and methods opens the door to unintended consequences, especially if expectations are raised or where the design reflects a desire to manipulate those providing responses.

Designing any deployment opens into ethical questions around access to micro-narratives, and around where and to what extent anonymity can be guaranteed. Any encouragement of the production of superficial, de-contextualised snippets in which depth and meaning are lost. For the purpose of analysing patterns, such snippets may be wholly adequate, but where the aim is disintermediated access to lived experience, authorial voices could be dampened rather than amplified.

The formal mapping of distributions raises additional issues, especially where those interpreting the patterns might be tempted to treat anything which emerges as more than indicative of a bigger picture. A more welcome "issue" might be raised expectations once respondents have become aware of what options exist to ensure traditionally-marginalised voices are heard: a development which could serve as a constraint for interventions at a later date.

On this Wiki is home to User_guides_for_SenseMaker® and to Community_Forums_for_SenseMaker®.

For Further Information