Using SenseMaker® – emotional intensity

Published by Tony Quinlan on

A short one, and one aimed specifically at SenseMaker® users. If that isn’t you, skip this one – nothing to see here…

When I’m building SenseMaker® frameworks, there’s one multiple choice question that I almost always include – and when it’s not finally included, it’s because despite deploying my best persuasive powers the client doesn’t see the need.

The question is:

Sensemaker multiple choice question

(The image is taken from the SenseMaker® Collector app on my iPhone)

When at the start of a SenseMaker® project, it looks like an unnecessary complication – but when analysing, it becomes really important. For instance:

Sensemaker triad: justice

From a cultural project we ran in North Africa last year, we can see roughly equal numbers of micro-narratives that feature each of the three dominant forms of justice – Reconciliation, Revenge and Deterrence.  It’s difficult to come to any conclusion from this.

With emotional intensity added, however, we get:

Sensemaker triad: justice with emtional intensity

Now we can see that while all three may be equally common, Reconciliation is mostly positive – a good sign.  Revenge is largely negative – again a good sign.  More worryingly, Deterrence is also largely negative – not a good sign, as it implies that preventing people from doing bad or stupid things is not regarded as a good thing to do.

Similar elements crop up with customers’ attitudes to different elements of a product or service – it’s not enough to know which elements dominate, but essential to see whether they are positive or negative.

For SenseMaker® Explorer users, I use my emotional intensity question and drop it into the Legend box – then right-click on each answer to change the colour so that I have an emotional spectrum from dark green (very positive) to dark red (very negative).  (Be aware that if you have a largely male audience, you may need to change from green to blue for positive, as red-green colour blindness will negate your careful presentation!)

Some colleagues prefer instead to a question with a list of feelings – angry, proud, sad, hopeful, etc – but my experience is that

  1. it’s less easy to create a spectrum
  2. if people can choose multiple feelings, then any micro-narrative that has two answers is automatically grey
  3. it is entirely possible to have a positive story that makes one angry – the assumption that angry stories are always negative is a poor one


Tonyjoyce · 11 June 2014 at 2:03 am

I’m not sure what this means, as emotional intensify is only a part of a reaction. Begs a question like …. what is your level of interest (in the story)?
From weak to strong and don’t care.
Don’t have any data to back this up.

tquinlan · 11 June 2014 at 12:19 pm

Thanks for that Tony.
You’re right – it’s only part of the reaction and hence it’s only one question about the story – the whole signification framework is how we look in more detail.
Your suggestion of level of interest is another – typically I’ll get into that element obliquely via questions like “How long will you remember this story” or “Who should hear this story?”.

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