More about sensemaking conversations

Sensemaking is the process that people instinctively use when in complex and difficult situations to make sense of what is happening and drive what they do. Our sensemaking conversations give the people we speak to the opportunity to think by talking

Sensemaking conversations

Sensemaking conversations is a very new innovative research technique that we have designed to help our clients understand how research participants 'make sense of' complex situations or difficult dilemmas. Examples include life-stage transitions like becoming a parent or starting retirement; social beliefs like vegetarianism; and products and services that are difficult to use - financial services for example.  Complex situations trigger us to automatically try to make sense of them. When make sense of them by doing something, by reflecting on who we are, and by talking. 

As researchers, our aim is to see the world from the other person's perspective. To do that we allow the person we are interested in to talk. As researchers, we set aside his or her own framework of assumptions and presumptions. We guide the person we are talking to to consider the multiple perspectives that may have created the 'frame' through which they are seeing this particular issue or problem. As such, this method relies on the expert use of advanced qualitative research techniques such as narratives and projective techniques.

Key features:

  • These conversations are intensive. We use small samples because of the depth of insight we gain in each conversation.

  • The conversation is about understanding why people do what they do

  • It is based on a blend of anthropology, sociology, and social psychology.

  • We talk about People make sense of complicated or ambiguous situations (sometimes called 'wicked problems') by doing something.

  • People look for plausible  - not perfect - solutions

  • The process involves people integrating their experiences into the world as they see it. 

  • They see the world through a 'frame' that in some cases is suitable for the problem at hand, and in some cases is not.

It is different from 'decision-making' research

Conventional decision-making research asks people about the 'decisions' they have made - about the product or brand they chose and what criteria they used to make their decision. This research typically

  • Assumes that a decision has been made, and doesn't allow for the fact that sometimes people just muddle through. 
  • Ignores everything that has led the person up to this point
  • Assumes that once the decision is made, it is made for ever

In confusing and new environments, the decisions that people make in life are not like that. We often find for example, that people 'wade into' situations and then need to make sense of what is happening around them before they can do anything. It is the doing of it that makes them think about it. Naturally and without intending to do so, people assign meaning to their experiences. It's an active, adaptive process often involving how they feel about themselves in that moment.

 Use sensemaking:

  • Instead of decsion-making research if your market and customers are changing
  • Instead of attitudinal research or motivational research if your product or service or complex
  • Instead of behavioural economics. Sensemaking projects are about how people actually behave in the real world not how they behave in experiments - which is where most of the behavioural economics theories originate. Sensemaking projects are non-judgmental. We don't say that people are flawed in their thinking. We say that people think the way they do to get things done in the best possible way they can at the time. Our job is to find out how they think.



Tags: Experiences, sense-making, Decision Making, Naturalistic decision making, People-centred research, Vegetarian, Wicked problems

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