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manual sensemaking


Staff member
Feb 16, 2024
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Sensemaking is a manual skill, which can be assisted with various tools, but the most important tool is our mind, using good practices.

Ideas often emerge in the complex domain, which is where people working in a network economy need to be active, probing, and playing. We also need to do shallow dives into the chaotic domain. Neither of these activities will be helped through automation. If anything, automation will make us lazy, or unaware.

The process of seeking out people and information sources, making sense of them by taking some action, and then sharing with others to confirm or accelerate our knowledge, are those activities from which we can build our knowledge. Managing and sharing information, especially through conversations, are fundamental processes for sense-making in the complex domain. Sensemaking is acting on one’s knowledge.

PKM with a cynefin lens

Learning in the complex domain with the Cynefin framework

A key principle of PKM Seek > Sense > Share framework is that no one has the right answer, but together we can create better ways of understanding complex systems. We each need to find others who are sharing their knowledge flow and in turn contribute our own. It’s not about being a better digital librarian, it’s about becoming a participating member of a networked organization, economy and society.

Sense-making consists of both asking and telling. It’s a continuing series of conversations. We know that conversation is the main way that non-codified knowledge gets shared. So we should continuously seek out ideas. We can then have conversations around these ideas to make sense of them. Sharing closes the circle, because being a sharing knowledge is every professional’s part of the social learning contract. Without effective sense-making at the individual level, social learning at the community and organizational levels is mere noise amplification.

Ask what value you can add​

Sharing is not as important as knowing when to share. This does not preclude us from collecting lots of information, but it should make us consider appropriate ways to share. We should be ready to share when the time is right.

The most important and difficult part of PKM is sensemaking. Little should be shared if there has been no value added. Thinking of adding value should be the first stage in curation, PKM, or any professional knowledge sharing. That value could be just parking things for easy retrieval. It is definitely not filling activity streams with massive amounts of unwanted information. Find ways to separate signal and noise.

The knowledge gained from PKM is an emergent property of all its activities. Merely tagging an article does not create knowledge. The process of seeking out information sources, making sense of them through some actions, and then sharing with others to confirm or accelerate our knowledge are interlinked activities from which knowledge — often slowly — emerges.

Here are various ways to add value before sharing​

[my comments]

Ross Dawson’s five ways of adding value to information are a good start at sensemaking techniques.

  • Filtering —[separating signal from noise, based on some criteria.]
  • Validation — [ensuring that information is reliable, current, or supported by research.]
  • Synthesis — [describing patterns, trends, or flows in large amounts of information.]
  • Presentation —[making information understandable through visualization or logical presentation.]
  • Customization —[describing information in context.]

In 1936, James Mangan — a most interesting character — identified several skills for acquiring knowledge (via Maria Popova).

  • Practice — [This is absolutely critical. It is primarily through experience — performance — reflection that we learn.]
  • Get it from yourself —[Sometimes it’s better to work things out for yourself than get a quick answer from someone else.]
  • Walk around it — [Looking at something from a different perspective, especially away from the mainstream, can give new insights.]
  • Experiment — [Using a constant probe – sense – respond approach with work and learning.]

Robin Good identified five more curation skill.

  • Comparing — [With increasing complexity, and obfuscation by competing interests, being able to compare related items becomes more valuable. Imagine if someone could compare all your mobile telephone options in a clear, simple way. Good comparisons are quite useful.]
  • Finding related items — [Collecting a series of resources on a subject over time can be useful, and save others time.]
  • Illustrating / Visualizing — [Good info-graphics are very useful, but too often they obscure. Visualizing takes great skill but can be exceptionally useful.]
  • Evaluating — [Being able to set criteria and evaluate from a neutral point of view can add real value to what otherwise would just be data.]
  • Crediting & Attributing — [While attribution may just seem like a nice thing to do, it is very important to trace how knowledge is constructed. With proper attribution to the original source, you can then make changes if evidence or circumstances change.]

seek sense share model
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