[cross posted from Trinifar]
Sensemaking … 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.
In that light consider this series of definitions:
Personal sensemaking (subjective understanding): my thoughts about the world are sufficiently coherent to make my internal dialog self-consistent. This encompasses the religious revelation scenario as well as the mind of the scientist. It is a completely subjective experience yet, depending on the topic, may be tested. That is, I can prove to myself I know how to drive a car (make sense of it) by seeing if I stay on the road and get where I want to go without hitting anyone.
Interpersonal sensemaking (teaching, communicating): my personal understanding is sufficiently sophisticated that I can communicate it effectively to others and have the means to detect when I’ve succeeded in doing so. That is, I can explain the process of long division to someone and, by watching them do it, see if I’ve succeeded in conveying my understanding. The person I work with may not and need not have the same ability to convey this understanding to others.
Group sensemaking (developing social cohesion): a collection of people investigates a topic and comes to a shared, testable understanding. There is some kernel or subset of the topic for which everyone in the group can demonstrate competence in some behavioral sense. That is, each can elicit head nods from an audience when talking about the topic or can adequately perform some series of tasks (which may be nothing more than speech acts) associated with the topic that the group has agreed show understanding.
Distributed group sensemaking: like group sensemaking except the group is physically distributed.
Global Sensemaking (the group) is engaged in distributed group sensemaking, although it’s just part of our goal and as such the name might be less than ideal, expressing only a cold rational concept rather than the true spirit of the activity. Let me explain.
To me, making sense isn’t enough. Since becoming a member of this group a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking, pondering, wondering about the term global sensemaking. I believe what we really mean by that phrase is life-enhancing sensemaking. We assume if enough sensemaking occurs globally it will “naturally” be of the sort that enhances life, but like all assumptions this one needs to be tested.
There are and have been many distributed group sensemaking activities with which no one wants to be associated: Nazi and neo-Nazi groups, terrorist organizations, authoritarian governments, etc. Within themselves these groups “make sense” while from without they’re clearly abhorrent. Orwell, Huxley, Golding, and others have written eloquently about the dangers of sensemaking of the sort that is the opposite of life enhancing.
Sensemaking also fails to be life enhancing when disconnected from any significant effect on the world or actively pulling away from it. Thinking here of things like role playing games and virtual environments — Dungeons and Dragons and Second Life being exemplars — as well as (with apologies in advance) many academic pursuits and fanaticism around sports, celebrities, escapist novels and movies, etc. Play and relaxation are part of healthy living, but when carried to an extreme detract rather than enhance life.
The sensemaking activities (global or local) I want to support are those that consistently filter their speech and actions (i.e. their work) with the question, “Does this enhance life?” A more concrete filter would be, “Is this consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Millennium Goals?”
Thus sensemaking itself, global or otherwise, holds no interest for me, but Life-Enhancing Sensemaking (LES) grabs me at my core.
To return to George’s original, philosophical question, I think sensemaking, in order to be life enhancing (and thus of general interest), must be grounded in science, pragmatism, and ethics. Without science we are just making shit up. Without pragmatism we will flail about ineffectively. Without ethics we have no reason for being.
Here’s my contribution to the lexicon:
life enhancing sensemaking (LESm): the process of understanding the world in a rational, compassionate, evidenced-base way to ensure, as best we can, that our actions improve the quality and sustainability of life on Earth.
We need to promote and support life-enhancing sensemaking efforts at every scale (local to global) to address the complex, significant problems of our time and do so with no guarantee of success, only with the knowledge that absent such efforts the future is bleak.
Please see Bob Parks cogent remarks on the original post. Bob’s a professional lexicographer with a lot to say, and worth listening to, about creating definitions.