Sensemaking Workshop

Skill theme: 
Synthesis & Insights
Synthesis & Insights

Working from Well-Managed Data, your team needs to make sense of focused depth or breadth of the data at hand. Your own Exploratory Qualitative Analysis or Affinity Map activities will help to contain the scope of a sensemaking session. Include any stakeholders who contributed to Interview Debrief or participated in the earlier Stakeholder Assumptions Workshop to continue bringing them along in the process.

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The challenge

Qualitative data can hold intense meaning for the team that collected it and has been working with it, while stakeholders not involved in the process, who may be crucial for its success, don't carry the same level of understanding or engagement.

Places in the projects where understanding significantly shifts—where new, emergent implications reframe the larger opportunity and actions to be taken—are essential milestones to ensure that key stakeholders are brought in. There may also be institutional or domain-specific knowledge outside of the project team that can quickly increase the value of data collected, or refine narratives that would ease adoption within the wider organization. 

In the course of data collection, it is also possible for a team to continually move too fast, gathering data and debriefing but never really zooming out to describe their new understanding of the landscape. The inquisitiveness, needs, and assumptions of others are invited and allowed (where helpful) to shape the course of new understanding.

The approach

The constraints of a workshop make it a special event, a forcing function that allows the team to consolidate understanding. Consider how to best involve stakeholders in these moments. Attend to the fidelity and coherence of the team’s current state understanding of the world, and where they need to create new clarity to keep work moving forward. For crucial team members who cannot join the entire process, use a sensemaking workshop as one hook to bring them along, to understand and help shape the meaning the team is working with. 

Therefore, run a workshop with the larger team that will achieve new clarity in interpreting evidence and incorporate interactivity so the team can "load" new meaning into their worldview. Set a clear frame for the workshop: an outcome to be reached, an archetype or model to build consensus on, and expectations for the follow-up steps. Begin the workshop by reviewing the project progress and timeline so far, so all stakeholders understand where you are in the process and why these next steps are important. Provide ample opportunity to steep in observations and ideas, review source data, and experiment and juxtapose ideas.

These workshops may include simple and straightforward activities like affinity mapping, but the goal of this work is to explore the more provocative implications of what the data is revealing, and help reshape your approach to the project moving forward based on our new understanding of the world.

Not all participants may be familiar with what sensemaking feels like, especially when done as a group. Some may expect a straight-forward presentation of results, or bring their own biases into the data set. Own the workshop process, and with experience the capacity of your organization to make meaning will rise.

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A good sensemaking workshop aligns the team on core instances of Conceptual Model and sets the groundwork and shared alignment needed to proceed further in structured models—User Personas, Jobs to be Done, Journey Map, and Service Blueprint. Aligning stakeholders team members on the observations and implications of raw data, before it is crystallized into more structured models, is an act of User Needs Inception. Use Effective Reporting when new or impactful insights rise and can be shared broadly.

Last updated:
Apr 28, 2020 14:00


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