Giving voice to everyone – avoiding overload, cacophony

Published by Tony Quinlan on

One of the great truisms in communications and development work (these days, I seem to be having conversations in both areas and am aware of their similarities) is that "we want to hear from everyone, give everyone a voice". The principled, idealistic side of us believes that, but the pragmatic side veers away from it – if everyone had a voice, the result would be nothing more than noise. Single voices would be drowned out, and all that anyone listening would hear would be the general hum of thousands of conversations – with the occasional howl of outrage emerging from the sonic ocean.

One of the benefits of using SenseMaker™ – as was shown last week in an interesting environment – is that it allows for lots of voices (over a hundred in this case, thousands in another current project) but allows for patterns of meaning to emerge, without getting trapped in the individual words.

While the voice that is collected is personal, contextual and authentic – allowing people to say what really matters and why – the next step is all-important. They then then put tell us what that story, that narrative, actually means – by simply putting it into a simple framework. Often, as last week, it's a simple mark on a triangle. And it's then the accretion of marks from hundreds or thousands of stories that produces the emergent patterns – the overall voice of the population.

(With some judicious demographics collection it's then possible to see how different groups' voices tell different stories too.)

And from the patterns, it's then easy to drill back down to the individual voices – meaning that everyone's voice is heard and recorded, that everyone's voice has equal weight in the emergent patterns, but we can hear the overall voice of the people rather than just a cacophony.

It's opening up some truly interesting projects – more on which in due course…