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Cognitive Edge accreditation and SenseMaker workshop

Full from all kinds of follow-up thinking from the Cognitive Edge accreditation and SenseMaker workshop last week, so unloading it here…

I came across Dave Snowden‘s work on complexity and sense-making a while ago, played with some ideas, but didn’t have time to get into it properly. Doing the workshop was one of my post-PhD treats: while there are a lot of the materials online I wanted to have guided introduction to the theory and methods (and, of course, I also wanted to meet new people and to talk about something non-PhD related 🙂

Random comments about the experience (coloured by my experiences of living in the blogoshpere and doing qualitative research 🙂

  • Overall I’m happy: working through the exercises resulted in concepts and principles sinking deep enough to start using them as a frame to think about the world. Working through the methods was extremely useful, although personally I’d prefer them to be applied on a slightly different selection of themes and cases.
  • What I didn’t expect, but loved was an intro to complex facilitation (more), through the exercises, explicit discussion of the facilitator roles and multiple examples.
  • I would like more theory. I knew that the course was more practice-oriented than before and that Dave wouldn’t be teaching it, but still… Between other things I missed an in-depth discussion on boundaries and attractors (in particularly as a managing tool).
  • I glad that I decided to go for the (optional) third day focused on SenseMaker. While it doesn’t address my hopes of finding something that would help to make sense of an emergent space in an emergent way, it might be a pretty useful instrument to make sense of big volumes of qualitative data when modulators could be discovered beforehand (cryptic, I know 🙂
  • And there is something that I can’t articulate quite well, some assumptions behind the stories told that give me some uneasy feelings:
    • it seems that most of the experiences with the methods come from from big organisations (industry and governmental), so translating them to constellations of smaller organisations or networks (e.g. NGO world) requires a bit of a stretch
    • the methods are primarily intended to be used as instruments to serve some “centre” outside of the system, not the actors in the system
    • (SenseMaker specific) bringing primarily “why this approach is better than surveys” argumentation rather than positioning it on the spectrum on qualitative/quantitative methods
  • [Update] Almost forgot about the “network” side of the course: next to connecting to the participants there was an opportunity to meet local accredited practitioners and talk about their experiences in applying the methods. What I’m very curious to see now is how the network works beyond the course.

Things to think and follow-up:

  • complex facilitation (incl. more on three facilitators approach); using Cynefin for matching facilitation style to the nature of the domain/audience
  • abstracting via two-stage emergence
  • safe-fail probes and adoption of innovation [blogged]
  • tagging as complex vs. chaotic behaviour
  • alternative “innovation” trajectories (in particular open source and “bubbling” in weblog ecosystems)
  • boundaries and attractors (and more on managing “the cloud”)
  • ASHEN model
  • SenseMaker boundaries
  • social network stimulation and social objects, role of rewards?
{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Dave Snowden September 18, 2009, 00:13

    Thanks for this useful feedback. A couple of points
    – there is a body of experience with methods and software in small organisations & NGOs
    – Methods can be used at any level, not sure why you see them as designed to serve a centre outside of the system. Most methods (SNS for example) empower the actors within this system. Ditto distributed cognition etc.
    – SenseMaker™ is a qual and quant tool in one so not on a spectrum, different way of thinking about the problem.
    Otherwise, the pure theory has moved to one day intensive classes that I still run, the accreditation is more practitioner focused

    • Lilia Efimova September 18, 2009, 11:09

      Dave, my points about “assumptions” were related to my perceptions on how things were presented during the workshop – I felt a mismatch between the “intended audience” and what my actual needs/interests were (all very subjective; and I’m not complaining since I got what I wanted by asking questions). I can imagine that asking a few questions about the participants background, questions and expectations prior to the workshop and then addressing those with the choice of examples, arguments and themes for the exercises would solve the problem.

      SenseMaker – my concern is that it was positioned primarily in respect to quantitative research, while I missed the discussion that would help positioning it in relation to the qualitative end of the spectrum (triad :). At the end I’ve got some kind of picture of the conditions when it makes most sense to use it. Not that CE doesn’t have those arguments (e.g. post by Michael discussing some of the qualitative issues), but I’d prefer them to be explicitly presented rather than having to tease this it out with questions.

      Theory – I looked for options for Narrative Research, but didn’t see any suitable options relatively soon and relatively close. And, I wanted the methods too 🙂

      SNS: I have a few concerns with the method (at least how I “got” it during the workshop) – have to think more about it; will put it on the wiki then.

  • Dave Snowden September 18, 2009, 11:40

    Agreed, I think you are coming more from an expertise perspective than a practitioner one. We have thought about a separate one day course on SenseMaker™ for people like you which I would run. We did set up a couple but there was not enough demand, but it may be time to rethink that. The standard course is very much that, its a standard course designed to be delivered by multiple people so its unlikely to be tailored to individual needs.

    If you have got specific questions etc then let me have them. I have a paper to write on this, a blog post or two and can record some podcasts. We know we have some work to do to translate the material and concepts to experienced researchers and all help is appreciated. I’m in Brussels and Amsterdam next week by the way if that is any help.

  • John Caddell September 19, 2009, 18:00

    Lilia, I’m happy I discovered your blog via the Cog Edge Ning site. This quote from the post made me think a lot: “the methods are primarily intended to be used as instruments to serve some “centre” outside of the system, not the actors in the system.”

    I think the raw material in a narrative database; i.e. ,the stories themselves, can be very helpful to actors in the system. The signifiers, often designed by folks looking to achieve a particular research objective, may or may not be.

    The idea of a “story bank” to which people could contribute and signify, as well as consume the content, could be useful in lots of circumstances, I think. The signifiers could be used to help one figure out where one wants to browse in the story bank; they would have to be created with this in mind. Sensemaker can do this, though the presentation interface to a story-banking audience may have to be different from the one tailored to a sensemaking project.

    Thanks again for your post.

    regards, John

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