Supporting sensemaking and decisions with scientific evidence

If you have the opportunity to work on a complex problem, including change at the technical, organizational and governance/policy level of a rather complicated environment, you can considered to be lucky to start with the insights from the Cynefin farmework, developed by Dave Snowden.
Recent evolution of this framework include “Entanglement“, liminality and the great idea of Entanglement by Abduction.

Cynefin Framework (Dave Snowden)

Cynefin is one of the 5 schools of “sense-making“. The essence of sense-making is it needs to be done by thinking and doing. The core idea driving the framework came from: “If you do not understand why something works, you can’t scale what you did last time” . It is not easy to replicate success in a different context.
Cynefin is described as the base of an EU report (available in pdf or print), Managing complexity (and chaos) in times of crisis.

The difference between decision-makers and sensemakers. Source: The Moment of Clarity

The mindset of “enlightment” does pretend we do understand enough to make decisions, but reality shows our data available and models used have little to offer to make sound detailed decisions and survive reality.
This limitation can be reduced, for whith the concepts of entanglement, having intertwined relations. The benefit of Entangled Trios to discover these relations shows to be eminent, once you understand the importance.
Dave Snowden refers to Murray Gell-Mann, who stated: “no gluing together of partial studies of a complex nonlinear system can give a good idea of the behaviour of the whole.”
JSB expressed this as “we have moved from the age of enlightenment to the age of entanglement”, with an emphasis on the need of the capability to “unlearn” as a competitive advantage.

How default thinking and sensemaking complement one another. Source: The Moment of Clarity

The clever apporach to live in this entangled world of chaos and complexity is to root your thinking (and actions) on natural sciences. Avoid the simple “case-based learnings” we get from social and economical sciences, which fail the correlation/causation confusion. In stead, Cynefin can be used for evolving managerial problems to a solution.
A recent lecture worth watching for Agile-Lean International from 2021 summarizes most of these ideas.

no gluing together of partial studies of a complex nonlinear system can give a good idea of the behaviour of the whole.


The key lessons Dave Snowden makes during his lectures are:

– Avoid building vision & missions, you want to reach, but rather look at where you are in the Cynefin framework, and what are the next best steps.
This works, because poor theory does not scale, and also people working towards explicit goals tend to lose their motivation. So better is to understanding the present landscape to define a direction – and be open for novelty on the pathway.

– Engineering systems always assume order. Ecosystems and complexity does not focus on order, because of the entanglement, lacking a linear causality towards a result.

The context determines what you can do. There are no context-free tools. Tools (and architects & architectures) need to become context-aware and context-dependent. So you need multi-methods & multi-tools to solve the complex space.

– The role of the architect (software/IT) should not be scaffolding the work done, but work towards the end-product itself by designing it well.

– The architect needs to reinvent its job:
not by producing abstract claims, but by a pragmatism by which the complexity is recognised in the context and by a collection of tools (agile, kanban, scrum, timeboxing, waterfall, …) towards a method to manage the Cynefin Complex phase. This will allow to build resilience in the organization, allowing to focus on entanglement of things, allowing to become responsive by changing the different connections. (This is how we build consciousness in a living creature – interconnecting brain – body & social interactions).

4 responses to “Supporting sensemaking and decisions with scientific evidence”

  1. […] Sensemaking is related to the mapping and understanding of entangled complex situations and deciding upon the first best move. This all is best observed through stories and story-telling analysis, like the Cynefin Sensemaker. Oxfam just relesed a great guide “The Learning Power of Listening Practical guidance for using SenseMaker“, showing their use of the method and tool. […]


  2. […] Rollen en hiërarchieën in de organisatie worden als permanente structuren gezien. In de nieuwe wereld van werken waar wendbaarheid en reactievermogen prioriteiten zijn, worden deze vaste rolstructuren al snel obstakels voor verandering en agile reacties. We kunnen ons denken veranderen om rollen te zien als vergankelijke steigers.Netwerken in organisaties, zoal een bewust gekoesterd netwerk kan beschouwd worden als een soort steiger – het bindweefsel dat het ontstaan ​​van nieuwe structuren in onze organisaties mogelijk maakt.In wezen wordt de steiger pas volledig functioneel als deze een onlosmakelijk onderdeel is geworden van de nieuwe structuur. Bijvoorbeeld, het opschalen van wendbaarheid en het koesteren van veerkrachtige of ‘anti-fragiele’ organisaties met adaptieve culturen zijn steigers die het beste te passen in het complexe domein van Cynefin.De rol van de architect (software/IT) is niet zozeer het gedane werk ondersteunen met steigers, maar wel toewerken naar het eindproduct zelf door het uitwerken van een goed ontwerpen. […]


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