Global Sensemaking

Tools for Dialogue and Deliberation on Wicked Problems

Philosophical aspects of sensemaking and operational definitions

An e-mail exchange between some members of the steering committee got me to thinking about more philosophical (and psychological) issues regarding the nature of sensemaking. And then my practical side got into the fray, wondering if we shouldn't spend a little time trying to explicate our individual definitional ideas about what we think this thing is. I was struck by noting the number of definitions for the word sense in dictionary.com. The noun definition that seems fitting is: "16. an opinion or judgment formed or held, esp. by an assemblage or body of persons: the sense of a meeting." But the verb definition: "20. to grasp the meaning of; understand," seems to capture much of what I take sensemaking to entail.

Philosophically I wonder about sense, in the latter definition, related to truth and understanding (where psychology enters the discussion). It seems to me that someone can make sense out of a phenomenon in ways that satisfy them personally but are not veridical. Take an extreme case of a deeply religious person having a profound subjective experience - a vision as it were - and taking it as a revelation, when in fact it is the result of a brain tumor! To them the vision made sense. But to you or me it is a tragedy.

People are always making sense out of so-called evidence when it fits their ideological perspective. Surely we are not thinking that the sensemaking of global issues is of this sort. Sense is such a personal thing in this regard.

Group sensemaking strikes me as more like science, if it isn't 'meta-science'. In other words, we want to make sense we all agree on that isn't just another kind of ideology or dogma, but based on objective reality. Where science, or at least the reductive approach, aggregates facts and data, sensemaking, like integrative methods, puts the facts into context with a larger environment. Sensemaking, in my view, is about understanding reality sufficiently well that one feels comfortable making statements about the future. That is, not necessarily making predictions, but anticipating future possibilities based on understanding how the world works.

Perhaps I'm the only one who finds this kind of exploration fascinating, but, again, my practical side asserts that some deeper shared agreement on the philosophical underpinnings of sensemaking is needed to get to a good operational definition. And that is necessary for developing tools to help people make sense. Maybe everyone else here has plugged into a literature that has already been there, done that, and I'm just late to the party. Just trying to make sense out of this stuff!

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While I'd like everyone to be "informed," able to discern well-constructed positions on important topics and have a grounding in science, philosophy, rhetoric, meditation (yes, even that), and probably a host of other things, I'll consider it a big step forward if we can create a social norm that places such a requirement on those who would be leaders. The Sara Palins and Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters (to use American-centric examples) are capable of too much dumbing down of discussions that occur in the mass media. That needn't be the case. We only lack the proper tools to help elevate the discourse.

I'd like to automate much of what now goes on by heavy human effort at sites like MediaMatters and a host of blogs, and that's the process of exposing and clarifying hidden or simply assumptions, expectations, intentions, and connections in human speech acts. Only after that's done can you construct a useful IBIS-like map or other artifact that reasonably presents an argument or position. And only after you have that, can you start to characterize in a meaningful way patterns of argumentation that are both valid, sound, and useful.

Once you have a set of characterizations that's reasonably balanced between being small enough to be manageable and rich enough to be useful, you can start to think about how "market" it as the basis of a metric to people who care about the quality of public thinking and policy making.

The IBIS framework only goes so far, but it's what we've got as a foundation. ... Well, I just don't have time to say more now so I'll stop.
This...

While I'd like everyone to be "informed," able to discern well-constructed positions on important topics and have a grounding in science, philosophy, rhetoric, meditation (yes, even that), and probably a host of other things, I'll consider it a big step forward if we can create a social norm that places such a requirement on those who would be leaders.

... is I think really important. First there's just the straightforward requirement that leaders should have some curiosity, some self-knowledge, some self-questioning, some empathy, some personal practice, some group practice - and that therefore there "should" be some kind of education they go through. This is not without issue in itself: Heinlein's Starship Troopers science fiction novel drew heavy criticism for making military service a requirement for citizenship. But it seems naive to think that a leader can emerge without any education or training (even with natural talent, training is essential, as in sports, for example).

However, there's something more. Leaders play an important role in framing questions and issues, and in magnetizing (acting as strange attractors) for both view and for convincing people of that view. This may be an aspect that does not play an explicit role in any of the sensemaking tools I can immediately think of. But in fact it may be how decision-making among groups of people actually takes place.

That is, rhetoric is as important as logic. That's a classical view.

Even further, while it may be true that bad judgments and opinions get formed through significant bias (non-logical stuff), I think it's also true that correct assertions get made and confirmed with the help of non-logical leaps, judgments, and inspirations. And this is where leaders play a significant role. Maybe it's not that we remove bias, but that we educate it. And good leaders educate us, so that we have confidence in shifting the field of possibilities in certain directions.

The medievals had it right: it is "faith seeking understanding".

By the way, Scott, this is also a comment on the "completeness" of the Do Good Gauge: I think a system such as you envisage also needs to account for this aspect of how decision making and activity takes place (there is a role for the Hero).
Mark,

Hero's come and go. Hitler was a hero to the German people for moving them out of a quarter century of great poverty. With this stated, I realize you are coming from a different angle. Future revisions of the DGG thesis will need to address the concern of the DGG catering to the mob instead of the authority of reason.

The gauges of the DGG provide appeal for the public. From an algorithmic point of view, they bring connectivity. The perpetual measurement of the do good gauge lends to my definition of absolute good. Good for you, good for me, good for all, good for now, good for then, and good forever.

I do not foresee the DGG going to great lengths to weed out amateurs. Instead it should facilitate the refinement of arguments from the less equipped so they can compete with the skilled. One method to facilitate this would be to provide a regional / national view of the DGG. The national view would display the highest ranked arguments. Regional arguments would provide visibility at a smaller scale where local mentors could collaborate to improve the argument in such a way to compete nationally.

In another thread I read Mark Klein's query to determine the largest argument map ever created. The issue with other argument maps is that they are mostly manually developed. A key to the Do Good Gauge is that it is a self managed method for growing argument maps.

Mark, thank you for the reply, please forgive me for the quick response. I realize I have not captured the full intent of your suggestions. I plan on rereading your thoughts several times, as to better express my thesis.
Forming intelligent arguments is an iterative process. It requires practice and mentoring to become proficient at forming a convincing point of view. A democracy cannot survive if it depend on the elite or well connected to form all the opinions.

The Do Good Gauge is still an abstract, I hope the latest draft captures the essence of a democratic process for obtaining the most comprehensive view of an argument.

I apologize for being selfish with pushing the idea, but I have yet to see any member demonstrate a tool or explain a concept for capturing a more broader scope of an argument than the Do Good Gauge. I foresee tool such as the David Price's argument relationship map as being an integral piece of bigger picture. But nobody is addressing a model for the bigger picture.

I'm embarrassed to go down this path again, but I beg the members of this group to read the Do Good Gauge abstract. At a minimum, I'm looking for feedback. At a maximum, I would like to see a continued dialog discussing the bigger picture for developing and understanding complex intelligent arguments.
Hi Scott,

I do have some thoughts for you but it would help me a lot if you could say something about the kind of feedback you'd find useful.
Hi Andy,

Thank you for the reply. I welcome feedback describing holes in the Do Good Gauge concept or for better methods of delivering the idea. My path forward is to:

1. Recruit a committee or Franklin type Junto group to complete the
requirements.
2. Utilize the Junto for developing a book. The goal of the book
would be to establish a community eager to develop argument
content. And to recruit programmers interesting in creating an
argument development framework.

The path is very similar to Jimmy Wales model for developing Wikipedia. The problem is that I do not have the charisma of Jimmy Wales.

Feedback on how to accomplish the described path is also welcome.
As a person who heh doesn't have Jimmy Wales' charisma (or the freedom of action his finances afforded him) I've limited the amount of time I've spent on the subject, which isn't to say it's unimportant or insignificant.

In another domain the role played by his type of character is called "champion", someone who not only runs with an idea but gets people to pay attention when he runs.
In my system the triad of guru and wizard is completed by "hero" ... very much the same: you need somebody in the top level offices to carry forward whatever elevator pitch someone else has delivered.

But my experience in industry, military, academe and politics informs me of something other: with a different set of social dynamics (I ain't holding my breath and don't suggest anyone else does!) that character would not be critical to a project's success.
As things are the folk at the podium take the credit even when the role they played was nothing but the most superficial marketing.

The fact is that business is a conversation ... and so long as that takes place in the context of personality politics, the only way to get laughs with the punchline is to play to the room and whoever happens to be in it.

I think of Ward Cunningham ... how many folk know he not only invented wiki as a working system but actually deployed it effectively?

On the other hand organizations such as Medecins Sans Frontiere or Grameen Bank ... both relied on charismatic figures for their longevity and success.
In several post, I mention Franklin's Junto as his inspiration, knowledge repository, and support system. I guess I could be bitter towards Ben for not crediting his support group. Instead I reflect on the thousands of family homes saved from the ashes, all of the declining eyes which continued to read, and all of the libraries across the United States.

I'm not looking for glory with the Do Good Gauge. I see a revolutionary idea which is more important than any one person.

I admit I am naive about the cost structure of this idea. As a successful software engineer, I have developed more complex applications with fewer than five developers in a time span of less than one year.

I noticed that Wikipedia is advertising their fund raising drive. They have a goal of raising 6 million dollars. I do not question that this amount reflects what the Wikipedia foundation requires for its yearly budget.

The business plan for the Do Good Gauge does not require fund raising. Not only would this business plan be able to support the Do Good Gauge Foundation, it would be able to provide a lucrative prize system to argument authors based on various scoring methods.

The business plan for the Do Good Gauge is available here.

Again, I am looking for feedback. I take all comments in to consideration for developing content for the Do Good Gauge thesis.
Just two simple questions I'd like to ask in order to better understand what the dogoodgauge (DGG) really is about:

1- What differentiates a DGG methodology from IBIS methodologies?

2- What differentiates a Junta from, say The World Café?
Thank you for the query Jack.

1. What differentiates a DGG methodology from IBIS methodology.

The following link gives some insight into the DGG methodology. Click here.
If I'm wrong with the following subjective comment, I hope it identifies holes in my argument. In terms of abstract versus concrete, I would say that the Do Good Gauge is closer to a viable website for gathering the widest understanding of an intelligent argument. The "This I Believe" is a simple essay which captures a majority of the requirements of the DGG. Missing from this concept is how revision control will provide an iterative method for argument refinement.

Secondly, the DGG provides a more democratic process for developing and understanding intelligent arguments.

2. What differentiates a Junta from, say The World Cafe.

For whatever reason, Franklin spelled it Junto. The Junto is not a requirement of the DGG. It is just historically proven method for developing intelligent arguments. I ran across this article which explained how to create a Franklin type Circle. Click here.

Main differences between the World Cafe.

1. Longevity and stability of group existence.
2. Limited to twelve members.
3. Shared leadership.
4. Equal responsibility for presenting thesis.
Scott, each of your assertions is, I believe, valuable, and each is subject to being contestable. Perhaps we should move this thread over to Debategraph where we can examine each point in the very detail you seek.
Scott,

Please see the online tools already deployed by YouGov in the UK to gauge people's perceptions to debates with political leaders (covering relevance, personal appeal and democratic validity) as a helpful example.

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