Collective Impact Camino

After listening to poet David Whyte I felt driven to get down some reflections on the pilgrim, the camino and some of the lessons I have learnt in the work I am doing with a number of organisations and communities, leaders and peers.  These are universal reflections and not connected to any one single initiative I am working in.  They are my reflections only and are offered without prejudice. Special thanks to all those who hold conversations with me along the way.

Introduction

Poet David Whyte reflects on the pilgrim’s journey to Santiago de Compostela, arriving without the fanfare and coming to the realization the arrival at the destination was only to recognize the road stretching ahead. So too is this work in collective impact. We make the path by walking it, and most of the time are not really sure of what we are doing or where we are going, but we keep moving on risking and knowing we are walking far our of our comfort zone into uncharted territory. And when we travel, we walk together some of the time and take comfort in one another, as well as having time on our own to catch our breath and reflect before we join up with the caravan again and continue on. The walk will continue without us and the path will still lie ahead even if we do not take the steps.

In travelling on this collective impact road, there are some signs along the way, just like the camino’s scallop shell.  The icon pointing the way, being an excellent substitute for a cup, bowl or scoop, like the instruments in collective impact, a container to hold ourselves and our work so we don’t stray from the path and can come quickly, back to the centre, in conversation with the inner and outer layers of the work.

Along the way there are inns where you come to rest, strangers recognizing the journey you are on, tables set with simple menus to nourish you and to help you break your fast.

This wonderful word “way” – the noun and the adverb – the method and the path – such a useful word. In my experience of collective impact, the way is both how we travel and where we are travelling and so our guide needs to do both as well, providing pointers and the invitation to examine our selves and our practice.

There are lessons we learn, tips and crumbs to leave for the next travellers following in our footsteps, and messages and advice from those who have made the path before us. So it is with some trepidation and, I hope, visible humility I offer four of the lessons I have learnt along this collective impact camino.

The Default Delusion

I am often reminded by Dr Michael McAfee that collaboration is not a result. Collective impact work is collaboration obsessed in getting lasting results, yet it is very easy to default to doing just collaboration and thinking that is enough to achieve a result. We all t know that not to be true, because if it was we would not have so many things either going backwards or at least not improving. It is a delusion. This delusion manifests itself in all sorts of ways such as:

  • reverting to language of funders instead of partners
  • applying for grants that don’t add value or even address the must do result
  • working with the usual suspects only and not looking to new players who could be sharing the responsibility in getting the result
  • selecting staff for the work who are seeped only in service delivery

In this delusional state we also seem to have bouts of amnesia, where we forget what we are doing and why we are doing it returning to old patterns and paradigms that no longer serve us, because if they did we probably wouldn’t be needing a collective impact approach! (Think of all those homeless services to women and children fleeing domestic violence – well how well has that worked? Creating generations of homelessness out of women who were housed in their own homes – how is that a solution to the problem?)

Governance

There is the risk, always close at hand, we won’t have the courage to try new forms of governance in this work. It is time to look for new models that properly reflect the shared responsibility of the result in the governance and decision-making processes. Rubbing salt into the wounds, many of the governance structures also have the usual suspects sitting around the table and old patterns creep in, if the leadership doesn’t keep raising the ambitions. Respectful challenges that call us to grow into the next steps along the way take courage and need to be received with courtesy. No longer served by command and control methods, yet somehow they do seep into our behavior and language. We need to employ dangerous questions that will disrupt our governing so we stay the course and recognize the stumbles, the stones in our shoes and the misread signs.

In this work you are not governing an NGO or a local government program or State government department, you are mobilising a movement and directing social innovation start-ups. This is the work of entrepreneurs, risk-takers and catalysts. It is not for the faint hearted or fearful.

Leadership needs to be adaptive, visible and invisible, curious and humble, courageous and vulnerable. Leading is deep listening, being silent often and facilitating with the lightest touch. Facilitators are the architects of trust and all leaders in this work need to be facilitators and enablers with imagination for the possible, willing to ask questions like Why? Why not? Can you help? What’s next? and my favourite question: What are we making together?

Governing this work requires leaders willing to back those along the way, like the innkeepers on the camino to offer comfort and repast, a haven to re-charge, the governing bodies hold the space for the travellers as they journey and are waiting for them at day’s end without judgment ready to hear the tales of the road and the hopes coming when day dawns.   And finally, leadership is not governance, yet without leaders you don’t have good governance.

Getting over yourself

A few of my peers in this work have chatted with me about the great Australian mantra “get over yourself”. This is indeed a universal lesson that like a comet circles around us often ( and there are times the orbit is shorter than we would like). It is an invitation to humility and reflection, an opportunity to get feedback on your own performance and most often is delivered by those we have had the hardest ones to hear or that piece of data we just can’t quite believe, or the surprise that might come packaged as a Trojan horse. The Getting Over Your Self phenomena may masquerade as Work Avoidance and make appearances as cancelled meetings, data that is available, as opposed to data that is required for decision-making, sniping about someone not knowing what they are doing … when actually none of really know what we are doing, but we are on the way and looking out for signs to help us get there. Work avoidance is what happens to the status quo and a sign of being on the cusp of disruption.  The way things are done around here is no longer true and it is time to “get over yourself”.  The easily distracted benefit from the discipline of the container for the work, the result to focus on, and this also helps those of us who have “get over yourself” moments. Another strategy that seems to work with this lesson is understanding your role and asking for support from others to stick to that role. We all have a contribution to make, you don’t have to do it all, and you need to invite others to take their role and their responsibilities –  #knowyourrole.

Community Development

Community engagement is not community development. There I have said it! Connecting, building, networking, fusing, creating a tapestry are all part of the toolkit of a community developer. The threads of community are knitted together in new ways and the request goes out not via SMS or an e-News to a meeting, but through building a relationship of trust and inviting / seducing/ attracting/ cajoling. Community development sets the foundations for engagement and without it no engagement will have deep roots. Community development both a precursor and product to engagement. As a social worker I don’t actually know how anyone in leading collective impact initiatives can do the work without a practice and discipline founded in community development. The principles apply across all parts and phases of the work. The United Nations defines community development as “a process where community members come together to take collective action and generate solutions to common problems.” This work does not exist outside of community. All players in the collective impact movement who are involved deeply are community and one of the tasks in leadership is to facilitate and support the experience of being community. It is a practice of authorizing and being authentic.

Taking the next step

So like to road that is seen, then unseen, the path of collective impact has times of clarity and mystery. We are held when we think we will fall by companions on the journey and fellow travellers who know the way or can point you to the next scallop shell even though they are not sure where it is themselves. There is promise and marvel, especially when you look back and see how far you have come. There is the golden tower when you think you have arrived, only to see the next part of the road stretching out ahead of you when you turn that corner and you are all the better for having walked so far along the way. This is the camino of collective impact and I am grateful for the lessons along the way and the way the lessons come to me.

SANTIAGO

The road seen, then not seen, the hillside
hiding then revealing the way you should take,
the road dropping away from you as if leaving you
to walk on thin air, then catching you, holding you up,
when you thought you would fall,
and the way forward always in the end
the way that you followed, the way that carried you
into your future, that brought you to this place,
no matter that it sometimes took your promise from you,
no matter that it had to break your heart along the way:
the sense of having walked from far inside yourself
out into the revelation, to have risked yourself
for something that seemed to stand both inside you
and far beyond you, that called you back
to the only road in the end you could follow, walking
as you did, in your rags of love and speaking in the voice
that by night became a prayer for safe arrival,
so that one day you realized that what you wanted
had already happened long ago and in the dwelling place
you had lived in before you began,
and that every step along the way, you had carried
the heart and the mind and the promise
that first set you off and drew you on and that you were
more marvelous in your simple wish to find a way
than the gilded roofs of any destination you could reach:
as if, all along, you had thought the end point might be a city
with golden towers, and cheering crowds,
and turning the corner at what you thought was the end
of the road, you found just a simple reflection,
and a clear revelation beneath the face looking back
and beneath it another invitation, all in one glimpse:
like a person and a place you had sought forever,
like a broad field of freedom that beckoned you beyond;
like another life, and the road still stretching on.

– David Whyte
from Pilgrim
©2012 Many Rivers Press

Source: http://www.davidwhyte.com/english_santiago.html

shutterstock_1405952592.jpg

Source International Traveller Magazine

 

 

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Collective Impact Do Bees

dobee

It has been my privilege to  be facilitating a leadership team for a collective impact project over the past 4 months.  One of my goals has been to build leadership capacity, as well as support all the practical tasks that needed to be done to bring their vision to a wider audience so they could invite others to step into the shared leadership and catch the vision. My mantras in this work are: facilitators are architects of trust and collaboration moves at the speed of trust. 

On Wednesday 29 April in a southern suburb of Adelaide, over 50 different organisations, schools, business leaders, community organisations, elected officials and community leaders came together to work on their shared vision:

Every child is safe, healthy, active, ready to learn and getting along with others.

and make a pledge:

Together, we are taking responsibility for improving the emotional and social wellbeing and success of over 6,000 children between 0 and 8 years old in Hackham West, Christie Downs, Huntfield Heights, Noarlunga Downs, O’Sullivan Beach/Lonsdale, Christies Beach, Hackham and Morphett Vale.

Together in the South’s event was held at Wirreanda Secondary School’s Learning Hub and around 130 people:

  • heard the facts about how local children are doing in this community
  • provided direct advice to the leadership team by testing the data with us
  • had an opportunity to share stories behind the data
  • were invited to consider how to join the Together in the South collective impact movement
  • set the criteria and process for leadership selection for the next phase of Together in the South
  • learnt about successes using this approach elsewhere

I want to spend a moment reflecting on some of the back stories behind the gathering. Like any occasion, the back stories give a glimpse into capability and capacity for leadership.

Here are three challenges arriving in close succession on the night (they weren’t the only ones):

  • Child care location (chosen by me) deemed not appropriate
  • Panellist no show
  • No beverages organised

“We can’t have children sitting so close that they can hear and see what we are talking about “ said the senior community development officer (CDO). Where else could the children go? Quick thinking and cooperation by the CDO and school officers, the staff room annex and sick bay was transformed into a crèche – talk about place making on the run!

A community panellist didn’t show up and so one of the young student actors (who was time-travelling later in the evening) was approached. She knew the issues, lived locally and could speak for herself. She quickly looked at the questions in the break and said “yes I can do that”.

Due to a miscommunication (probably mine) there were no plans for any drinks. The catering team swung into action finding cups in the chef’s car, urn in the hospitality training area and other supplies from staff rooms and meeting spaces. Crisis averted in double quick time, no one noticed and guests delighting in the corrugated pyramid  welcoming them.

There are oodles of back stories from the night to demonstrate unauthorised leadership – stepping up, making up a solution where one wasn’t known and taking responsibility for a solution to be found. I could have easily told you about the designer who in between other jobs and parenting squeezed in support, or the host agency’s ISP being hacked and going off line a few days earlier and advocating to get it back up as soon as possible, or the printer not having some collateral ready for collection and who turned it around in 30 minutes, the teachers, students and ancillary staff who kicked in to help as we wouldn’t have got the room ready in time without them, the IT support staff member who stayed after hours to make sure all the computers would stay accessible, students who stayed up past midnight to crunch numbers, edit video and design images to communicate effectively, arts officer who helped out with rehearsals, foot rubs from a partner, meals cooked when words needed finessing, the senior public servant who swung into gear to help get key decision makers in the room … the list goes on and on.

After the evening was over, and perhaps because the focus was on children, Romper Room and the Do Bee came to mind. Do you remember that show? The Do Bee was busy getting things right and helping get things done.

For each of us the back stories may well be the ones that teach us the most about our strengths, our capacity to be agile and adaptive.

There are plenty of do-bees in this work. People do, and are the best they can be. At their best they offer their gifts of time, talent and resources.  Catching the crisis (albeit little ones) in the chaos, trades on the trust built in the experience of making something together.  This is the collective impact movement in action; improvising to make the most of what is at hand, driven by the evidence, founded on quality relationships and executed by a hive of Do Bees.

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The Why

Small groups offer an opportunity for facilitators to invite participants to dive deep. In a “nowhere to hide” environment, the task of ensuring it is a safe place for all to take part is vital.

Reflecting on a recent facilitation of a small group (4 people) of leaders I am reminded of the importance of supporting and confirming agreed principles throughout the process. In this example, the group had determined the WHY of their work and documented this, which in turn became the default for all remaining decision-making. As planning went to detail and operations, the why can sometimes be diluted and the more challenging strategic approaches and subsequent tactics can fade. By using the WHY are you doing this as a consistent tool and frame for decision-making, you can be confident the group will wrestle and keep digging deep.

This approach is a slight twist to the Five Why’s of Sigma 6 fame used to discover the root of a problem. What I am seeking is the meaning around what is being planned e.g. Why have a library (on a project I have been working on the future of libraries); Why have product xyz (for a business plan); Why have care education (for this group of school leaders).

Why - a great time to use heart shaped post-its too!

Why – a great time to use heart shaped post-its too!

In a small group, personal values, beliefs and experiences can be brought in depth to the conversation and maintaining the safe place for those who may be feeling vulnerable. Tears are not uncommon in my experience as this is where the passion and long held beliefs rise up to be visible.

Holding the space to keep drilling down and supporting the group to get to the heart of what is important to them. Invariably this is about culture change and designing a plan that will embed practices that have can be reinforced by the culture and/or policies. (This approach can be scaled in large groups with a team of skilled and trained facilitators.)

Invariably the discussion moves into HOW to embed the WHY into practices and policies. It is at this point the principles help the group to be contained by their shared principles. It is also the time the groan zone can come into its own! At these points I am often reminded by Martin Luther King’s words in these situations, there is a place for behaviour modification for those who struggle and in time, their attitudes might change too.

There are riches to be found in the WHY and facilitation.

Martin Luther King

It may be true that you cannot legislate integration, but you can legislate desegregation. It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law can’t change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law can’t make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me and I think that’s pretty important also. And so while the law may not be able to change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men. And when you begin to change the habits of men, pretty soon their attitudes will be changed and their hearts will be changed.

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Facilitating Futures

I have written previously about the role of facilitator as mid-wife and this is particularly true when using future perfect methodology. I have been working with this method for a long time and sometimes on a large-scale.  One of the features of a process, more than a decade ago,  included hundreds of secondary school students welcoming delegates with their post-2013 business cards. A simple touch that created the space before delegates sat down for dinner to begin their deliberations.

Creating and making the space for imagination and to support the process can be as simple as embedding information hinting to what lies ahead (e.g. a date on the invitation, visual images, artefacts). Long before a participant walks into the room, the process has started. This is vital, in my view, for successful facilitation of any kind, but it is especially true with this methodology.

As a facilitator working within this theoretical framework coaching and coaxing to stay in the frame of the timeline is good discipline for  being tough on process and soft on people. Freedom comes with the process and on this occasion the content specialist embraced the methodology and remarked how liberating it was to work in this way. Participants are able to externalise and the potential for group think and divergent thinking is promoted. It is a method that really hones into the why’s for decision-making and reduces the what we are doing focus that often trips up both facilitators and clients  by drowning in content instead of leveraging the process to take everyone to the next level.

I am currently involved in a project on the future of libraries and the brief lent itself to future perfect thinking and that is what is being applied. A few of the elements used in this design are:

– introducing one another in pairs from the position of what they are doing now in 2030 and what they were doing back in 2013

– sitting in ‘birds of a feather’ groups i.e with self nominated peers for small group discussion

– plenary presentation of data and information

– rotating in randomly selected mixed groups for five diverse scenarios in 2030

– creating visual images of scenarios and participant input (e.g. posters, wordles)

– individual capturing of responses to key questions using postcards posted into “letter boxes” selected according to nominated criteria (to reflect client brief)

Letter Boxes

Letter Boxes

My facilitator heart skips with joy when I see people not leaving the room,  and hear them talking and making the future with their colleagues, while packing up continues around them.

“… affirmation come(s) from helping people achieve their desired results … we hope to hear participants say as they walk out the door, “That was exactly the meeting we needed to have right now. We need to do this more often,” instead of, “You are a very good facilitator to handle a crowd like this!” S. James, M. Eggers, H. Hughes-Rease, R. Loup, B.Seiford Facilitating Large Group Meetings That Get Results Every Time Chapter 20 in IAF Handbook of Group Facilitation.

The client’s blog post underscores the success of the design:

We worked our way around 5 different scenarios which prompted us to consider what the future may look like & then we worked in groups to document what we wanted to protect in 2014 which would be important in 2030, and what we were prepared to jettison. It certainly led to some interesting conversations. For many of us the process assisted in “drilling down” to the fundamental purposes (i.e. the why) of libraries, rather than focusing on what we do now.

Facilitation is always about change and always about the future and being 100% fully present to the here and now.  In my experience a future perfect approach to facilitation enables freedom and delight in the possible and sets the stage for intentional and informed decision-making.

“change is what facilitation is about: transformation, participation and process …. the profession of facilitation is one of emerging disciplines responding to and giving shape to those trends.” Jon Jenkins, Chapter 27 Operational Dimensions of the Profession of Facilitation in The IAF Handbook of Group Facilitation

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Making One Word at A Time

Building improv into facilitatory processes and indeed everyday life is a discipline. It may seem like a paradox to be intentionally spontaneous.  Several years ago I was working with a Board and while travelling with one of the most experienced members, I was witness to a dilemma unfolding around succession planning.  As we walked along cobblestone streets I suggested we apply “one word at a time’ to tell the story of the dilemma.  Within three sentences there was clarity about what needed to happen next. We both were amazed and laughed and felt relieved. We had shared a ‘moment’, a unique and gentle unfolding of what was possible outside the heat of the boardroom.  It was a lesson to each of us about co-creation too.  While at the IAF Conference in Singapore, I thoroughly enjoyed being exposed to Izzy Gessell‘s application of this activity and being reminded of the simplicity (and power) of One Word At A Time.

Reflecting on the notion that one word at a time is what it takes to build anything. Sharing the space, sharing the responsibility and celebrating what has been made together is at the heart of all successful facilitation. A facilitator with a light touch holds the space to enable making and like the maker movement, this approach has a DIY nature to it. Groups that can say “we made that ourselves” is a personal goal when facilitating.

The co-creation nature of this shared space making a decision, incubating ideas, exploring possibilities is a gift to every facilitator and watching the making unfold before our very eyes brings joy. The innovation and invention is visible and the tools and techniques applied bring something unique to each situation. Made better because it has been made together.

Facilitating in London

                Facilitating in London

 

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Manifest

I don’t want my citizenship outsourced to professional politicians, apparaticks or the elites. I want it messy, deep, deliberative and discursive. I want it entrusted to skilled facilitators who are independent, creative and nonviolent. Enabled by high quality capacity builders that design and practically enable everyday participation.

I want to practice in a community of peers who support, challenge, resource and play with me. I want to have time to be contemplative in the space and to jump around and make some noise. I want to hear diverse voices and generate ways for voices to be heard. I want platforms and games and vital statistics to reveal what might be hidden in cracks and crevices.

I want poetic language describing and inspiring communities to midwife their futures. I want the herbs and weeds to send messages about climate change, food security and new markets.

I want the future to inform the present.

New Year Dreaming - Time Square NYC

New Year Dreaming – Time Square NYC

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Sensemaking and Facilitation

Facilitating conversations that support decision-making are founded on the same properties as sensemaking. Sensemaking is the process by which people give meaning to experience.  I think sense making is the business we are in as facilitators. (For a summary of the properties of sense making see Wikipedia extract at the end of this article.)

Facilitation is a collaborative process fostering shared understanding among the participants. As a facilitator, my goal is to support and enable making sense of the each piece of data and stories that come into the room and exist long before the group gathers.

Each of the elements of sense making is listed below with a few words about that element in the context of facilitation.  It is my intention over time to add more to each of these elements with more examples. If you have some you’d like to share too please do so!

Playback in Toronto

Playback in Toronto

1. Identity and identification.

When I facilitate I put a fair bit of effort into enabling people to identify themselves and be authenticated by the rest of the group.  While it is often customary to have beautifully fashioned name tags waiting on arrival, I do like to leave them blank and have people complete their own. Gathering around a registration table with coloured markers brings its own conversation as well and the bumping into one another that happens in the natural course of the occasion can also be an unfettered networking moment.  People also name themselves this way – some use pre and post nominals, others a single name, all giving away a little of their identity and how they want to be known. It is the beginning of making sense together of who is in the room and together they are shaping and co-creating the space with me.

2. Retrospection

Stepping in back, looking back, or gaining a new perspective is often central to the reason you have been hired to facilitate. If the session or process is to plan for the future, there is some looking back over the past, if it is evaluation the same is true; indeed almost all facilitative processes include retrospection. For instance even a round at the beginning to introduce everyone by inviting each participant to say what they had for breakfast as I was recently invited to do while attending a writers workshop, is a moment of retrospection. More detailed and deep retrospective activities are well-known components and most facilitators have a kit bag full of techniques for review and evaluative purposes.

3. Enact

Having time set aside to speak and to listen is essential in any facilitation.  A facilitator supports participants to help them organise their thoughts, review their history and/or look at the journey they want to take together.  The well-known joke:  How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time springs to mind for me here. A facilitator who can design process that assists participants to sort thoughts, categories ideas and find themes is very welcome to complex and challenging situations.

4. Social

recording the recorders

Recording the recorders, Khayelitsha, Cape Town, RSA

Keeping the story so it can be shared is essential.  Social media tools can assist here pre, post and during any facilitated session. For example a common hashtag, to share on twitter and instagram accounts are simple, but there are also more traditional methods like taking photos and sharing them after the event by way of a short report.  I recently hired a cartoonist-in-residence to build another social dimension. His finished cartoons were then shared both in a report, online and amongst all the participants.  Having a list of all the emails has been a tried and true method as well. As a facilitator you can have a role in fostering the social dimensions of a process.  For years I have inserted a “commercial break” into sessions, where participants can advertise something that they want to promote. I often give it another quality e.g. something in their home town, something personal, something from their network. Over the years some of the outcomes have been a car has been sold, a house rented and recruitment completed!

5. Ongoing

Facilitating and more importantly designing processes that build in feedback and provide opportunities for influencing others in the group need to be crafted to steer away from groupthink, while at the same time aiding the whole group to take steps together.  Some of the techniques I have found useful have included setting up quick debating teams – 3 on each side 1 minute each on a point of difference and then having time for personal reflection before taking a step together. Another one I’ve used regularly is rotating flip chart paper – each individual flip chart having a traditional element e.g. for a SWOT process – an S, a W an O and a T ( you can do same with PMI or ORID as well). I have used successfully over the years after debate and discourse, five to ten minutes silent reflection, then bring the whole group back pose a question for decision and ask everyone to write their answer on a single piece of paper and on the count of three turn over their page. Every time I have done this consensus has occurred – one board I recently worked with said that was ‘magic”!

Sorting out what information and data is relevant is often messy.  Participants come with knowledge that may not be available to others in a process; it also happens that there are hidden or hiding pieces of a puzzle that need to extracted to enable decision-making or new thinking to emerge. A facilitator who is able to extract without it being like a root canal treatment is often valued for their compassion.  I have noticed over the years facilitating withheld information is a power trip for some participants and therefore a facilitator who can empower and not embarrass, support and not destabilise is more likely to be able to extract cues for sense making – and this maybe a facilitator’s harm minimization strategy.  I know that has been true for me when facilitating some situations that were essentially toxic.

7. Plausibility over accuracy

Every participant has their own view – and where ever you stand on the mountain will depend on what view you see! There is selected memory, selected hearing and often those selected to participate in a given process can forecast problems. In open space technology, the maxim that who ever turns up is who is meant to be here, is a good one for any facilitator to hold on to.  In most facilitation process I try to accommodate elements of random sampling, even it is just numbering off for small group work to help hear all the voices and minimise the undercurrent politics in every situation. Another technique I have used to accommodate this sense making variable is to invite everyone to submit a question into a hat and then ask everyone to pull out a question and try to answer it. This invariably harvests new information, insights and helps build trust too, if I’ve done my work well to make the process safe for all participants.

I look forward to hearing from other facilitators. Your thoughts?

You are here

You are here

From Wikipedia

  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) and reduce complexity in the context of change management (Kumar & Singhal, 2012).
  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, 1993: 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.” (Wick 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 (Currie & Brown, 2003).

 
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