Global Sensemaking

Tools for Dialogue and Deliberation on Wicked Problems

There has been a powerful surge of energy in the group over the last few days, suggesting, perhaps, the imminent emergence of a higher degree of complex organisation and purpose.

The energy and activity—distributed across various threads—appears to be building around a group agenda (roughly) along the following lines:

(1) Defining the problems we are addressing—building a definitive, systemic map of the (interrelated) global problems. Focusing initially on the issues rather than the solutions.

(2) Defining and assembling the sensemaking tools necessary to address the problems.

> An audit of the existing tool set
> A wish-list of what's missing from the existing tool set
> A means to federate and build upon the existing tools

(3) Connecting with the wider community

> Other people who are working on similar tools
> Other people who are working to address the problems in different ways
> The practitioners whose work the tools may assist
> People with the resources to catalyse the development of the tools and potential new institutional forms

(4) Defining a charter / ethos of the group. Identifying and exemplifying the patterns of interactions that we aim to encourage more widely in society.

(5) Other items?

> Defining a mission statement to post as a fixed item at the top of the Ning main page for new visitors / members.

> Should we make the group fully open now or continue to grow via invitation?

> Should we federate other tools around Ning (and, if so, which ones) or should we look to move to an alternate platform (e.g. Drupal or Wordpress mu?)

A tool missing from the Ning feature that might help us to flesh out, refine, and coalesce around the agenda is a Wiki. So as an experiment I have posted the agenda above on a Global Sensemaking wiki, created using DekiWiki.


Splitting the locus of the discussion in this way may not be a sensible idea—and if this proves to be case we shouldn't hesitate to abandon the idea (or to build on it in a different direction).

Feel free to add comments on the agenda (and/or on the Wiki idea/experience) here as well.

Once we have fleshed out the agenda, we can focus on an action plan for achieving our goals.

[UPDATE 3rd June 2008: Wiki switched to DekiWiki, which looks like a more promising longer term option for the group. I have changed the links above accordingly].

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I would suggest that DekiWiki might offer a wiki solution more suitable to our needs than does WetPaint. They offer for fee and free hosting, and it's open source. Take a look at the features, which include easy fabrication of dashboards.
Started checking this out. Starting a free hosted wiki seems dead simple, except... "Prove you're not a computer" :-)

Looking at the API docs (seems to have a REST API), can get list of group users. Looks very promising.
Thanks for the feedback Jack and Mark (and Andy S too). I have relocated the draft agenda to a new group DekiWiki today:

NEW: Global Sensemaking Wiki:

Many thanks to everyone who registered for the previous WetPaint version—and apologies for the false start.

I do like DekiWiki better. As I mentioned elsewhere, it's not letting me edit my page; I'd like to change my password.

Not sure what the issue is with the editing—it seems to be working fine for me—however, with respect to your password, once you are logged in you should be able to change your password by going to the control panel and selecting the user management option.

Well, WetPaint doesn't play well with iNames (OpenID 2.0), and otherwise gave me grief trying to register with a url-based OpenID (I did get authenticated, but not registered), after several tries ending with "Oops!
We're sorry you found an error with our site. We're working hard on improvements!"

I know how hard this stuff can be to implement, but it still shows how far we have to go in true interoperability, so you could step from site to related site with no friction. And for that to be easy for people whose primary concerns aren't these tools.
Good point. Not just that the tools have to be interoperable, the connections have to be seamless to the average user. My fear is that in an attempt to, as Jack puts it, federate across platforms, we will end up cobbling together different views with totally different looks and feels. The average user shouldn't have to worry about whether s/he is using a wiki or a map. This is, I think, going to be hard to achieve with so many different tools and approaches.

What is needed is a front end that looks the same to everyone no matter what purposes it is being used for. They might be able to do a little customizing for their own comfort, but no matter what function they are performing, e.g. adding a support to an argument, or putting a comment into a thread, they need to see the same basic interface without a lot of complications.

Well, that's my $0.02 worth.
Well, I'm measuring my contributions in micro EUROS; the American buck ain't a buck anymore. I have this intuition that there will necessarily be different views at different portals; As Doug Engelbart would argue, give the folks control of their views. Let them rearrange the view-spec according to their needs.

Right now, we see lots of wiki platforms 'out there', most of which are, in some way, at least familiar in the sense that they behave much like MediaWiki. So, that argues that many sensemakers the world over will be interested in working with classes of wiki platforms like Wikipedia. Then there are individuals who are familiar with blogs. We will need to include them in the federation even if they are not authenticated as sensemakers. We do that through tagging and coherence relations to ideas lifted out of them. Same with wiki content.

I say that not to confuse but rather to suggest that a sensemaking platform, in my view of it, is actually a federation of all sorts of information resources fabricated on a variety of tools. Tools include those of hypermedia discourse as are well articulated by the Knowledge Media Institute, including Compendium and Cohere and perhaps some of the earlier projects from that group. The platform also includes blogs, wikis and social bookmarking platforms.

And I say that because I think in terms of the topic map that actually does the federation work.

Tools can and should be interoperable at the web services level. We talk a lot here about REST API approaches. There are other approaches that involve harvesting RSS feeds, SOAP transactions, and so forth.

George's concern about "cobbling together different views" is an important one. I think, just dabbling my toes in the pool labeled "solutions", is that we will be able to sort out what sort of feeds will provide responses to queries in such a way that the AJAX folks can write javascript that lets users take the information provided and slice and dice it according to user's requests, Cohere and DabateGraph are driven by javascript; there is an entity (; I recall they are using the Tibco javascript libarary) that does Compendium-like dialogue maps entirely in javascript. If you really want to see what you can do with javascript, visit

My vision includes this notion: if you are at any sensemaking portal (or blog or wiki), you should have access to a tiny window that provides you with a dashboard-like view of the subject you are viewing as provided by the topic map. That way, sensemaking results can be made available to any website that wishes to present the information.

I suspect that, in a larger picture of sensemaking portals, the portal(s) this tribe creates for the metalevel activity of promoting the science and technology of sensemaking itself will rapidly grow beyond a free-hosted site. We will somehow end up being in the server farm business. That's one of the motivations behind a sensemaking university.

0.05 EUROs. What?
I'd like to second Andy's suggestion that we start with a charter, a mission/vision kind of thing with some rules for proceeding. For example it might be a good idea to establish some parameters for who we invite in, at least initially. This isn't a control thing (OK it is) but an attempt to keep the discussions focused until such time as an ethos emerges. My personal preference would be to invite people who we know to be experts in an area we are already supporting. I invited Nathan Hagen, for example, because of his expertise and contacts in the peak oil arena. But in addition to experts we should consider people who are not necessarily experts but bring a social perspective to an issue.

Just some thoughts.
Seconding George seconding me :-)

It is about control but not in the nefarious sense, rather in the sense of wanting to provide a useful, positive experience to new members. As one of the newest members of this group I've been flailing around for some time trying to figure out what we're about and how we're going about it all the while trusting that George wouldn't have invited me here if there wasn't something potentially important and interesting going on to which I could contribute.

When the gates are open to all, I'd like to have enough of a framework in place so that new people can quickly see what the group is about and how to contribute, otherwise we risk needlessly losing potentially significant contributors. (And establishing a bad rep.) What we need to avoid is creating a framework so rigid that new people are put off. Given what I've learned of the people here now, I don't see that as a problem.
A huge "thank you!" for posting this. The agenda you created accurately reflects my sense of things.

Regarding the first three items -- (1) defining the problems we are addressing, (2) defining and assembling the sensemaking tools necessary to address the problems, and (3) connecting with the wider community -- I urge we focus on data collection and brainstorming first and foremost, and only later concern ourselves with organization, evaluation, mapping, visualization, etc. I think the data collection these three activities entails has very high value.

Under (5) Other items, you have "Defining a mission statement to post as a fixed item at the top of the Ning main page for new visitors / members." I hope that falls out of (4) Defining a charter / ethos of the group.

Should we make the group fully open now or continue to grow via invitation? We now have 36 members. I'd wait until we've finished (4), the charter/ethos activity, to open the group up -- thinking that only then will people wandering in be able to understand what this group is about. Sometime after that I suspect it will be important to revisit the charter.

In the tools realm, I think a Wiki and either Drupal or are essential now while Ning is not. My intuition is that database services will become the backbone of what we're doing (emphasizing that that is nothing more than an inituition on my part).

Very nice summary, a useful step.





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