SenseMaker® and Systemic Change

Powered by SenseMakerI’m off to Istanbul today. I will participate there in a two-day workshop organised by Cognitive Edge and UNDP. This is part of a new initiative started by the two organisations called Fragments of Impact. The aim of the initiative is to engage with new ways of working on difficult problems in complex and fast-changing situations.

Specifically, the initiative is focused on:

  • generating fast feedback loops
  • capturing data on subtle changes in attitudes, behaviors and perceptions
  • bringing user-centered design methods to development work,
  • implementing projects with the realities of politics and power in mind
  • taking small bets and low-cost prototypes before committing large investments into multi year projects

The initiative will explore the boundaries of using Cognitive Edge’s SenseMaker® software to work on intractable problems in uncertain, culturally-specific environments. SenseMaker® is a research approach and software package that allows us to capture a large number of narratives around a specific issue. Instead of then interpreting the stories ourselves, SenseMaker® gives the power of interpretation to the people who told the stories. They can interpret their own stories within a given framework. The interpretations give us quantitative material that we can analyse statistically. (There is a brief video if you follow the link above by Dave Snowden, one of the brains behind SenseMaker®).

Mesopartner has already successfully used narrative research approaches and SenseMaker® in various projects. For the Fragments of Impact initiative, I have been asked to support a programme of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) called Yapasa. It works with rural youth in Zambia engaged in the soybean and aquaculture markets. Mesopartner also supports EDA, an economic development agency based in Banja Luka, Bosnia. EDA is also participating in the Fragments of Impact initiative.

SenseMaker® is a powerful tool to capture changes in the systems we engage with. It does so from the perspective of the people in those systems, not from the perspective of us as a researcher. Using an open prompt for stories, narrative research allows us to find change in unexpected places and shapes. It is not about confirming a hypothesis but about scanning the context widely. Self-interpretation by the people who tell the story empower them to live the stories.

We are very excited that Mesopartner is participating in the Fragments of Impact initiative. We will keep you posted on how it goes.

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