What is sense-making and its implications for movement sense-making


Wikipedia describes sense-making as follows:

It is a collaborative process of creating shared awareness and understanding out of different individuals’ perspectives and varied interests… Sensemaking has seven properties [5]

  1. Identity and identification is central – who people think they are in their context shapes what they enact and how they interpret events (Pratt, 2000, Currie & Brown, 2003; Weick, Sutcliffe, & Obstfeld, 2005; Thurlow & Mills, 2009; Watson, 2009).
  2. Retrospection provides the opportunity for sensemaking: the point of retrospection in time affects what people notice (Dunford & Jones, 2000), thus attention and interruptions to that attention are highly relevant to the process (Gephart, 1993).
  3. People enact the environments they face in dialogues and narratives (Bruner, 1991; Watson, 1998; Currie & Brown, 2003). As people speak, and build narrative accounts, it helps them understand what they think, organize their experiences and control and predict events (Isabella, 1990; Weick, 1995; Abolafia, 2010).
  4. Sensemaking is a social activity in that plausible stories are preserved, retained or shared (Isabella, 1990; Maitlis, 2005). However, the audience for sensemaking includes the speakers themselves (Watson, 1995) and the narratives are ‘both individual and shared…an evolving product of conversations with ourselves and with others’ (Currie & Brown, 2003: 565).
  5. Sensemaking is ongoing, so Individuals simultaneously shape and react to the environments they face. As they project themselves onto this environment and observe the consequences they learn about their identities and the accuracy of their accounts of the world (Thurlow & Mills, 2009). This is a feedback process so even as individuals deduce their identity from the behaviour of others towards them, they also try to influence this behaviour. As Weick argued, “The basic idea of sensemaking is that reality is an ongoing accomplishment that emerges from efforts to create order and make retrospective sense of what occurs” (Weick, 1993a: 635).
  6. People extract cues from the context to help them decide on what information is relevant and what explanations are acceptable (Salancick & Pfeffer, 1978; Brown, Stacey, & Nandhakumar, 2007) Extracted cues provide points of reference for linking ideas to broader networks of meaning and are ‘simple, familiar structures that are seeds from which people develop a larger sense of what may be occurring.” (Weick 1995: 50).
  7. People favour plausibility over accuracy in accounts of events and contexts (Currie & Brown, 2003; Brown, 2005; Abolafia, 2010): “in an equivocal, postmodern world, infused with the politics of interpretation and conflicting interests and inhabited by people with multiple shifting identities, an obsession with accuracy seems fruitless, and not of much practical help, either” (Weick 1995: 61).

Each of these seven aspects interact and intertwine as individuals interpret events. Their interpretations become evident through narratives – written and spoken – which convey the sense they have made of events.

If so, then what are the implications for each of the 7 properties, which we should take into account as we pursue the work of fostering better sense-making for and by the Occupy movement?

You are all invited to participate in the inquiry addressing that question, particularly if you’re passionate about contributing to raise the movement’s collective consciousness, self-awareness,  and collective intelligence.

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4 Comments on “What is sense-making and its implications for movement sense-making”

  1. December 29, 2011 at 12:14 pm #

    What could we learn about the dimensions of our collective sense-making and how to improve it in each if them, if we translated the academic language in the context of the movement?

    “Data-Frame Model of Sensemaking”

    • Recognize and construct a frame
    • Perform cycles of elaboration on that frame, adding and filling slots, seeking,
    inferring and discovering data
    • Ask questions of the frame, detecting inconsistencies, judging plausibility,
    analyzing data quality
    • Perform cycles of refactoring, where the process is to seek a new frame that
    better describes the situation

    Source: Investigations within Investigations: A Recursive Framework for Scalable Sensemaking Support Sensemaking Workshop, CHI’08. Florence, Italy. April, 2008.

    • January 7, 2012 at 7:55 pm #

      I will forever cherish the time when I woke up to the fact that “the ability to give meaning” is an essential milestone in growing up.

      “What is worth doing” is therefore a question that we may want to ask ourselves every morning on our own as well as “en groupe” – whether face-2-face or screen-2-screen.

      One thing is for sure: there is a sense of community among those is the streets that we will never be able to share as long as we stay in our homes and offices. But the attitude of likemindedness and priority of principles can be shared.

      OCCUPY for me is ‘on the ground’ what AVAAZ is ‘behind the screens’: the attempt to make a world happen that makes sense – where the difference between what they say and what they do is not such that you go crazy trying to make sense of it.

      OCCUPY your inner self is the start for
      — more integrity and less recklessness
      — more personal response-ability rather than corporate irresponsibility
      — more mutuality and buddying instead of ‘me-me-me’ and loneliness.

  2. January 9, 2012 at 3:53 pm #

    in a fresh blog post about everyone being a beginner in this discipline of connecting the networks I linked this sense-making post and closed asking

    > What do beginners need and want?

    George Por replied promptly: “a shared purpose that is concrete, energizing and connect us with a meaning larger ourselves.”

    Thank you, sir, and I agree. As far as I can tell the still fuzzy purpose I perceive from the occupy movement is yet strong enough to galvanize people into collaborative action, ready to confront hardships.

    I realize a shared purpose can be for something or against something, likely affecting the balance of the seven elements in this article. The Tribes Q&A e-book 156 people co-authored with Seth Godin looked at how the for/against purpose may affect groups (p. 55).

    On my own beginner’s thread, I am looking for examples of shared purpose to understand how the seven properties may work out.

    The Next Edge – everyone is a beginner

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