SenseMaker in Europe – building momentum

Published by Tony Quinlan on

Friday saw the second informal meeting of European Cognitive Edge practitioners. And great conversations were had as it feels like there’s momentum building for the network in Europe – with a core group of people looking to get things going in Europe.

But first things first. We’d managed to get a room above a bar down an alley – great character and good beer. Attendees had made it from the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Belgium – although I suspect there will be more countries represented when we next meet in Amsterdam. People had been on courses over a few years – there were three of us who’d done Cognitive Edge courses in 2005, the year that has been described as “interesting trainings”, but one who’d been on the course back in the days when it was run in IBM.

After some initial mingling/conversations (I’m looking forward to expanding some of the conversations around topics like research in pharmaceuticals and M&E for NGOs at some point in the future), we got down to business. The main reason for the sessions is simply to meet, share experiences and build cooperation between us all – I fully expect to see at least one project in the next few years that draws on expertise across national boundaries.

With that in mind, one of the elements that we’ve introduced is the Offered/Wanted boards. They’re still a little sparse, but we’re using them more and more to swap experience and see who’s available for what – that project can’t be far away…

It’s easier, initially at least, to have those conversations around something semi-structured. So once the informalities were over, I gave a short presentation/demo of how we’d used SenseMaker recently under the Children of the World umbrella to do some research with young people in Mexico. The project itself was fascinating – we collected 1800 stories from children between 9 and 11 and had found some fascinating insights into Mexican culture and beliefs at that age – but that wasn’t the focus of what we talked about.

(Picture courtesy of Richard Hare)

Instead we looked at how we’d analysed the data itself in the first instance, how we’d fed it back to the client, etc. What became clear was that, while everyone loves SenseMaker and sees its potential, until you’ve actually worked with it on a live project, there’s still an (unnecessary) aura of mystery about it. (Mind you, for Cheryl, who’d implemented a project with the very first version of SenseMaker, there was plenty that was new and a leap in user-friendliness in version 2.5!)

One of the risks when you’re working with SenseMaker is that you run too far into the data, picking up fascinating insights (which you inevitably do when you’re working with it) but things that are too esoteric for the client. So we’ve started taking in “vanilla” findings – basic results that prompt the theories and questions that guide the next levels of analysis and discovery.

The focus of the session, given the lack of experience, came down to really straightforward hints and tips (e.g. In Cluster, go to Windows->Preferences and turn on Lines between Filters). The practicalities of using the software proved a good route in.

After a great lunch as the talk continued, and a break for fresh air and visits to chocolatiers/waffle makers and La Grand Place 100 metres away, we moved on.

Some of the discussion at the last meeting revolved around the desire to have a SenseMaker project to collect and share experiences of using sense-making techniques and tools (particularly SenseMaker – as evidenced by the presentation above!).

Harold van Garderen has taken the lead – and got agreement to set one up. The next step is therefore to develop the signifiers to use. With the Future Backwards from the last event in mind, we started with a couple of anecdote circles. Given the degree of trust and camaraderie in the group, they started firing very quickly – quicker than many I’ve seen – and there was real frustration when we halted them to move on to the next stage. (There will be plenty of opportunities to tell those stories in the future, folks – hold onto them!)

From there, it was straight into generating potential signifiers and prompt questions.

And then the day was over – some having to rush for trains and planes, others heading downstairs to enjoy a Belgian beer or two.

Before we closed up on the day, however, we agreed the venue for the next meeting – Amsterdam – and two possible dates for us all to check and confirm – either the 8th or 10th December. So put both dates in the diary – or let us know which you prefer – and we’ll confirm shortly the real date.

And come along – the momentum is building strongly. From here on, things get exciting!

3 Comments · 19 October 2010 at 9:55 am

Thanks for the write-up Tony! sorry to have missed it. See you in December!

Rondon · 21 October 2010 at 5:14 pm

Likewise, so jealous of the pics of all the hexagons, smiley faces and Belgian beer.

AppliedWisdom · 27 October 2010 at 11:34 pm

Great summary, Tony (and thanks for the pictures, Richard). Really enjoyed it and look forward to the next one.
Think you’ll find that Switzerland was also represented – by Christian !

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