How SenseMaker works

Narrative research projects with SenseMaker typically have three phases:

  • designing and testing the research tool
  • gathering people’s experiences and stories, and
  • using the results for sense-making and to chart the way forward.

Here is a brief outline of how SenseMaker works.

Designing & testing the research tool

First, we consult our clients on their research objectives and design a ‘signification framework’ (questionnaire). This starts with an open-ended story prompt. Respondents tell a relevant story, then respond to a series of self-interpretation questions, which are often presented as triangles called ‘triads’. These have related concepts in each corner, and respondents drag and drop a marker onto each triangle, plotting their story within a field of related concepts or ‘signifiers’. For some questions, the storyteller is asked to locate their story between two poles or indicate where it falls within a matrix.

Selecting relevant signifiers for each triangle (or similar element) is crucial. Therefore, it’s important to test and amend the questionnaire before data collection begins. We advise consulting practitioners with a thorough grasp of how SenseMaker works before you commit resources.

Next, we explore how data will be collected, which can be complex. There are various ways to manage it and we can help you to devise multiple routes. This sometimes involves training collectors. We then test and build a bespoke SenseMaker website for the project, with an app code so that respondents can use the free IOS and Android apps.

Training and supporting SenseMaker collectors

Where self-administered surveys are not possible, we train and support collectors to interview respondents. This may be necessary in the developmental sector, for instance when interviewing respondents with low levels of literacy. It’s also useful for collecting stories at venues where people regularly gather to talk. Thorough training and support are important to ensure unbiased data collection.

Stimulating responses

SenseMaker collects the data, including images, audio and text, via tablet, smartphone or computer. Alternatively collectors will gather the data and enter it into the program.

No matter how we capture the data, we then visualise it with SenseMaker’s software or, if preferred, another tool, such as Tableau or SPSS. We make sure to look at patterns emerging from the data before we read any of the stories, in order to preclude confirmation bias. (Translation may obscure nuances, so we always keep the stories in their original language for reference if required.)

Results & sense-making

Depending on the scope of the project, the next step may be a report, presentation or workshop. It can also be the start of a new process of developing and monitoring interventions to stimulate effective change. Although we can prepare in-depth reports, experience shows that these are not always read. Many clients prefer that we work with them to look at the initial data, determine the depth of analysis required and workshop action points.

Over the past decade Narrate Consulting has helped over 50 organisations with framework and collection design. We specialise in in-depth analysis of narrative research results and in designing interventions with sustainable outcomes.  Frequently we find that several smaller, resource-efficient actions prove more effective than a large-scale project.

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