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#KM4Dev: Cynefin and dealing with complexity

Simple! by Peter J. Bury on FlickrFresh from Cognitive Edge accreditation workshops Nancy White and me did an Open Space session to share with the participants of KM4Dev workshop some of the things we had learned about the Cynefin framework.

The Cynefin(pronounced /?k?n?v?n/) framework is a model used to describe problems, situations and systems. The model provides a taxonomy that guides what sort of explanations and/or solutions may apply. It was developed by David Snowden and his collaborators. Cynefin is a Welsh word, which is commonly translated into English as ‘habitat’ or ‘place’, although this fails to convey its full meaning.

Cynefin frameworkWe didn’t have that much time for the session, so we started from introducing complex systems, the Cynefin framework, safe-fail probes as an approach to deal with complex domains, and then did an exercise, mapping the issues that come from the evaluation of KM4Dev workshop to the framework.

While I really like Dave Snowden‘s style of introducing the concepts, there is something in it that makes it more difficult to explain them in my own way. Probably the engagement of the stories that turns them into a memorable experience difficult to override… I still have to invent my own examples to talk about complex systems, so I took the birthday party story that Dave tells and turned it into a three-years old birthday party story, thinking of Alexander’s last birthday as I talked 🙂

If you want to dive deeper into what have been discussed you might want to check:

MappingIf you are thinking about using the Cynefin framework in a group process it might be useful to start from reading descriptions of two methodsButterfly Stamping and Cynefin contextualisation: Four tables. The last one also provides a list of forms that help to think of actions to address items in four domains:

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Carl Jackson October 13, 2009, 18:59

    Your’s and Nancy’s session on the Cynefin framework was one of my KM4Dev highlights. Really got thinking following the climate change and KM/KS session where the issue of systemic threats needing systematic thinking would have been lovely to link into the Cynefin model.

    Is there anything in Cynefin about the relativity issue? I mean that when comprehending a system the observers distance and speed relative to it may influence what is understood. For example if I am on a bike cycling past the window of FAO my view of the Knowledg Share Fare may be that it is a standard UN conference (perhaps complicated but not complex). If I get off the bike and enter the Share Fare my view may well change and see that this is a more emergent and unconventional kind of gathering (definately complex and perhaps chaotic at times).

    What do you think Lilia?

  • Cynthia Kurtz October 31, 2009, 21:07

    Hi, I’m the Kurtz of Kurtz and Snowden (as Dave always says). I don’t get out much 😉 but I have a white paper on my web site about exactly this issue – Cynefin considering the relativity of multiple perspectives. Might be helpful to you. It’s here http://www.cfkurtz.com/publications.html – look for “The Wisdom of Clouds”.

  • Carl Jackson November 20, 2009, 18:15

    Hi Cynthia, just uncovered your reply and have downloaded the Wisdom of Crowds paper. Looks very interesting and will read carefully on next train journey and share comments.
    Many thanks, Carl

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