Sunday, November 18, 2007

One example re narrative and sensemaking

Courtesy of Google Alerts, I noticed that someone on had commented on a post on narrative and sensemaking, asking for more detail.

In this post I provide one example. There will be more in future posts as I further report on the analysis of practice videos I've been doing.

The example here comes from video analysis of a workshop setting. It outlines a moment in a live knowledge mapping session when something went wrong, resulting in sensemaking and improvised actions to bring the session back on track.

In the workshop, teams of three to four people were given the task of devising a knowledge mapping exercise that they would then facilitate with a large group of participants. This example comes from a sensemaking instance during one of the teams’ large group sessions.

The instance occurred for about 2.5 minutes of a 24 minute session, starting at 13:36and lasting until 16:58. The facilitating team had constructed a knowledge map with some seed questions that they asked participants to provide answers to (which they in turn added to the knowledge map displayed to all on a large screen in front of the room). One member of the team acted as the mapper. The session had proceeded more or less as expected until at 13:36 one participant (P1) began to challenge some of the contributions to the overall discussion, questioning why some participants kept asking if others’ contributions counted as ‘critical thinking’ or ‘visual thinking’.

The challenge did not fit into the planned flow of events, and the mapper, who up to that point had been able to capture participant contributions into the map quite fluidly, lost her way. She began trying to map P1’s challenge at 13:49. At 14:42 she was in the midst of doing this when another participant (P2) made a new verbal contribution that did not reference the challenge.

Map at 13:36

A third participant, P3, asked if P2’s comment counted as ‘critical thinking’ or ‘visual thinking’, prompting a further challenge from P1. The mapper was able to capture P2’s 14:42 contribution on the fly, but couldn’t map either P3’s question or P1’s new challenge. The interchange is shown here:

14:42 (P2) “I think another skill that can be developed … is the ability to see bigger questions”
14:51 (P3) “Is that not also part of critical thinking?”
14:53 (P2) ““Uh it may or may not be but I … that's my opinion.”
15:03 (P1) “… why, why is it important… we seem to be getting caught up into but isn't that critical thinking, isn't that critical thinking. Why is that important? I mean, why is it important that we relate all these things to critical thinking.”

In the course of this, the mapper got so far behind in mapping P1’s challenge that she became stymied. This can be characterized as the sensemaking instance.

There are really two overlapping dilemmas. Firstly the participants’ issue about how to frame the conversation itself, and secondly the mapper’s attempt to regain her momentum and resume making coherent additions to the map. In this case, after some further back and forth among the participants, a fourth participant (P4) contributes a possible solution:

15:33 (P4) “OK... so I would now interrupt, as a facilitator I would interrupt, because I see, um, [the mapper], struggling with keeping up… OK so I would say ‘hold that thought’, let her just finish this for a moment… and then repeat your question so we can capture it.”
15:53 (Mapper) “Um… yeah so I did, I wasn't able to capture the stuff that went into the 'What is critical thinking' and that's where I'm behind, I'm trying to copy.”

After some negotiation about how much time was left in the session, the mapper asked the room for help in deciding what should be put onto the map. A fifth participant (P5) provided a helpful summary and suggestion for how to represent the discussion:

16:09 (Mapper) “OK. So what's the current thing I'm trying to capture”
16:11 (P5) “But [P2] said … she thought one of the issues was the ability to see bigger questions, was something…”
16:18 (Mapper) “Right, so how would I do that…”
16:20 (P5) “...and then somebody said… isn't this just part of critical thinking so if I was mapping that I'd just put a minus there… and say isn't this just, you know, this is part of, should be part of critical thinking and then I'd put another question mark off that and say why is this important”

From that point until the end of the episode at 16:58, the mapper executed a rapid series of moves on the map, which are summarized here:

16:26 Moved cursor all the way to right side of the screen very briefly, then back to hover over 'Considering alternative perspectives' then 'Ability to see bigger questions' then down to bottom of window in response to P5’s comments
16:35 Moved the new cloned node to under 'Ability to see bigger questions'
16:41 Linked cloned node to 'Ability to see bigger questions'
16:42 Highlighted the clone
16:45 Keyboard-created new Idea node linked to the Question, gave it the label “Why is this important?”
16:52 Moved node down and to the right slightly
16:54 Moved cursor out of the way over to the right
16:55 Moved 'Is this related to critical thinking' down and to the right slightly (for appearance)

This enabled her to bring the map up to the point where it corresponded to the summary provided by participant P5 (see Figure 2), and to announce at 16:58, “I’m caught up.”

Map at 16:55

The above is perhaps at a lower level of detail than 2mm was looking for. I'd be interested in any feedback.

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