We’re live, and starting to build the teams… Join us!

ESSENCE [E-Science/Sensemaking/Climate Change] is the world’s first global climate collective intelligence event — designed to bring together scientists, industrialists, campaigners and policy makers, and the emerging set of web-based sensemaking tools, to pool and deepen our understanding of the issues and options facing the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009.

The event, starts online in January 2009 and culminates in a conference at the National e-Science Institute in Edinburgh, in April 2009.

During the pre-launch phase, we are beginning to identify and assemble teams of scientists, industrialists, campaigners and policy makers to work with the tool developers on specific aspects of the complex set of issues around climate change.

The aim is to develop a comprehensive, distilled, visual map of the issues, evidence, arguments and options facing the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, that will be available for all to explore and enrich across the web.

The project is founded on principles of openness, transparency, and discovery; with no preconceptions about the conclusions that will emerge from the event.

If you are scientist, industrialist, campaigner, policy maker, tool maker — or someone with other ideas and resources to contribute — and are interested in learning more about and participating in ESSENCE, please get in touch.

Ready?… / …Engage


more sensible foraging?

Cuil (pronounced “cool”) adds a new twist to web search, at least according to this:

Rather than trying to mimic Google’s method of ranking the quantity and quality of links to Web sites, Patterson says Cuil’s technology drills into the actual content of a page. And Cuil’s results will be presented in a more magazine-like format instead of just a vertical stack of Web links. Cuil’s results are displayed with more photos spread horizontally across the page and include sidebars that can be clicked on to learn more about topics related to the original search request.

Go to http://www.cuil.com and query “sensemaking.” The results are interesting, particularly the contents of the sidebar categories on the right.

Building on Tim Bonnemann’s excellent Wordle, and Mark Szpakowski’s suggestion, here’s a first pass at mapping Barack Obama’s speech in Berlin.

The snapshot below displays the top layer of the map. Click anywhere on the image to open and explore the underlying structure—and feel free to log-in and improve the first draft.

In preparing the first draft it has been fascinating to compare the different senses, dimensions and saliencies of the speech that emerge via the different forms and interpretations: video, transcript, Wordle, and map. Let me know what you think below…

In the same category as Mark’s and Simon’s posts on data visualization, look at this visualization of this raw text. I assume Slate created the visualization by hand but it’s not hard to imagine it being programmatically generating from semi-structured text. (Note: GSm takes no position on political issues.)

[h/t Ellen]

PlanBlog condenses (using Wordle) Barack Obama’s Berlin speech, given today, into a word cloud (see both the word cloud and the speech). Interesting… as Eugene Eric Kim comments, world is the most frequently used word.

Any tools to open up the speech’s argument or idea or intentional structure?

Over here Al Selvin links to several related blog posts which I find particularly interesting. Read them all (they’re short). In this post I address just one part.

In It’s about the experience, Al says,

Ultimately what matters for approaches like Compendium is not the notation, the software, or the theory; it’s the experience they make possible for people participating in them. The technical or procedural components are enablers but not determiners. It’s what can (but doesn’t always) happen in actual practice, in real sessions, between the people that is the real essence.


Practitioner skill, in one form or another, is often what makes the difference.

When it comes to face-to-face sessions I couldn’t agree more. A skilled facilitator can be effective with no technology at all, especially so if a few participants are themselves skilled in group interaction. And some technology has the opposite of the desired effect. Put a screen at the front of the room and arrange everyone in standard theater-style seating (rows of chairs) and you risk turning a room full of people who might have been interested in engaging with each other into an audience engaged with the screen.

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now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened

e.e. cummings, XAIPE, 65

I returned to Somerset on Tuesday from a memorable journey to New York for the Personal Democracy Forum conference and Berkeley for the DIAC Tools for Participation conference, awestruck and enthused by the social changes unfolding across the web—and convinced that we face a wave of institutional reform in civil society far deeper than we can begin to imagine.

The journey was memorable too, for the multiple meetings it afforded with fellow global sensemakers, and for the dialogue and promise that flowed through those meetings.

To recap, for those new to the endeavour, the twin perceptions underpinning the global sensemaking network are that:

(1) humanity faces an emerging mess of systemic global challenges—such as, climate change, poverty, peak oil, population pressure, water shortages, declining biodiversity, and failing food supply—that are the product of patterns of thinking and behaviour that no longer make sense.

(2) we need new tools of thought if we are to adapt to the scale and complexity of these challenges; tools that augment individual intelligence with the structured insights of many minds.

We are collaborating, with anyone who wants to join us, to accelerate the development and implementation of those tools.

Global Sensemaking

A big idea emerged on Saturday evening from the preceding flow of dialogue with Mark Aakhus, Peter Baldwin, Simon Buckingham Shum, Jeff Conklin, Bob Horn, Luca Iandoli, Mark Klein, Anna De Liddo, George Mobus, Jack Park, Jack Paulus, Al Selvin, Brian Sullivan, Andy Streich, and Mark Szpakowski—the kind of idea that has no single author and that is a product of the co-mindedness and co-presence of all.

In essence, the idea is to:

  • Distil and map humanity’s current best understanding (from all sides of the debate) of the problems and potential responses to the social mess of environmental, energy and economic challenges that we face in the build up to the UN conference on climate change in Copenhagen in 2009.
  • Embody the map of this material in two three-dimensional spaces (off- and on-line) that the relevant political leaders, policy makers, and rest of us can explore in a highly immersive and intellectually and viscerally compelling form. One embodiment will fill a large event arena with the map on the floor forming branching pathways that lead the participants through the problem / solution space supported by a rich array of multimedia exhibits. The second will build on the first in an online, explorable, immersive, and continuously updatable 3D-space akin to Second Life.
  • Draw together the leading scientists, stakeholders, politicians, policy makers, mappers, programmers, event managers, artists and funders necessary to deliver on the promise of this idea.

The scale and complexity of the challenges we face require an unprecedented, concentrated, creative response of a kind that lies beyond the scope of conventional policy making approaches and patterns. Work is starting within the group to assemble the necessary talents to realise this ambitious goal: and there is an open invitation to join us.

There is little time to lose.

Here’s a beautiful description of global sensemaking in one (long) sentence:

I’m thinking of means to learn about the existence of relevant new work (alert systems), find the texts and the passages we need (search engines), find work already found by colleagues (tagging and social networking systems), find articles similar to ones we know to be relevant (recommendation systems), find articles in our own language (machine translation), navigate to cited sources (reference linking), navigate to different versions of cited sources or other relevant destinations (multiple-resolution hyperlinks), convert a text to speech when we can’t read the screen (voice readers), paraphrase articles we don’t have time to read (text summarizers), digest larger volumes of literature than we could ever read (text mining), combine independent resources to create new synergies and utility (mash-ups), find information relevant to our questions even when we don’t know the relevant keywords (semantic web), distill uncopyrightable facts from natural-language texts and enter them into queryable OA databases (knowledge extraction), pose our search queries in our own words and sometimes even get back direct answers rather than mere pointers to literature that may contain answers (natural language search engines).

That’s from Peter Suber in the SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #123 of July 2, 2008. (SPARC is an acronym for Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition.)

Suber talks about the “last-mile problem for knowledge” and its two stages:

  1. getting access to texts or data
  2. getting answers to questions

I think it’s a great essay with immediate relevance to what GSm is tackling.

Read the whole article.

[tip of the hat to Bora]

Are there particular problems or issues that can be identified where the use of Sensemaking tools could make a decisive difference? I imagine this would involve a sequence of finding such a point, applying Sensemaking and related tools to surface and confirm the real nature and cause/effect sequences of what’s going on, and then visualizing/expressing the results so they can be comprehended by the public, relevant groups, and decision-makers. This is pretty much what Buckminster Fuller was suggesting through his notions of comprehensive anticipatory design science and World Game.

In my blog post Financial markets live on price-inflating bubbles? I suggest one candidate for such an acupuncture point. Hypothesis: financial markets are artificially inflating prices in bubble markets created by runaway velocity of money. If this is true the consequences are enormous. If not, let’s get this meme out of the way so we can concentrate on what’s really happening.

The GSm founding community has strong representation from people interested in the next generation of tools for structuring, manipulating and analysing dialogue and debate at different scales. Complementing these are, of course, tools that will help us work directly with the data, in order to tease out and explain hypotheses and claims that can be fed into such debates.

Gapminder is one such tool, which has been attracting a lot of attention for its compelling visualizations of time-series data.

Gapminder is a non-profit venture promoting sustainable global development and achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals by increased use and understanding of statistics and other information about social, economic and environmental development at local, national and global levels. […]

…the Trendalyzer software […] unveils the beauty of statistical time series by converting boring numbers into enjoyable, animated and interactive graphics. […] Since the Trendalyzer development was taken over by Google the Gapminder Foundation maintain the same aim and uses Trendalyzer and its resources to produce videos and web service showing major global development trends with animated statistics. Such a 3 to10 minute video is called a GapCast and they are published as free web casts with the aim of promoting a fact based world view. A GapCast converts statistical time series into moving graphics in ways that allows evidence based trends to be told as simple story lines. The time series used will be made freely available in the web service called Gapminder World that enable end users to further explore the underlying statistics in Trendalyzer graphics.

Gapminder’s director Hans Roslings gives dynamic presentations with the tool, eg. at TED:

Of specific interest to this group is the application of Gapast to Climate Change: consider for instance this “Gapcast” (Gapcast #10 – Energy & emissions)

Gapminder World is all the data that they’re importing, delivered via an interactive browser app:

Gapminder World lets you explore the changing world from your own computer. Moving graphics show how the development of all countries of the world by the indicators you choose.

Gapminder World is powered by Trendalyzer and Google Spreadsheet.

The Gapminder Graphs Community is their strategy for scaling up data sharing. Since acquisition by Google in 2007, there is now the Motion Chart Google Spreadsheet Gadget to generate animated bubble graphs.

User scenario:

OK, now imagine that we can link easily into a specific point or clip in Gapminder World or Motion Chart as an evidence point, an anchor for a claim that is made within one of the other GSm discourse tools. Or that when I enter that clip in the movie player, or turn on an overlay for Community Debate: How has this data been used in arguments?, it highlights that there is apparent consensus, or a huge debate raging…