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Sensemaking is the ability or attempt to make sense of an ambiguous situation. More exactly, sensemaking is the process of creating situational awareness and understanding in situations of high complexity or uncertainty in order to make decisions. It is "a motivated, continuous effort to understand connections (which can be among people, places, and events) in order to anticipate their trajectories and act effectively" (Klein et al, 2006a).


[edit] Sensemaking in individuals and organizations

In individuals, sensemaking is the largely cognitive activity of constructing a hypothetical mental model of the current situation and how it might evolve over time, what threats and opportunities for each action are likely to emerge from this evolution, what potential actions can be taken in response, what the projected outcomes of those responses are, and what values drive the choice of future action. In organizations, sensemaking is a collaborative process of creating shared awareness and understanding out of different individuals' perspectives and varied interests. The process of moving from situational awareness in individuals to shared awareness and understanding to collaborative decision-making can be considered a socio-cognitive activity in that the individual’s cognitive activities are directly impacted by the social nature of the exchange and vice versa.

Klein et al (2006b) have presented a theory of sensemaking as a set of processes that is initiated when an individual or organization recognizes the inadequacy of their current understanding of events. Sensemaking is an active two-way process of fitting data into a frame (mental model) and fitting a frame around the data. Neither data nor frame comes first; data evoke frames and frames select and connect data. When there is no adequate fit, the data may be reconsidered or an existing frame may be revised. This description resembles the Recognition-Metacognition model (Cohen et al 1996), which describes the metacognitive processes that are used by individuals to build, verify, and modify working models (or "stories") in situational awareness to account for an unrecognised situation.(Such notions also echo the processes of assimilation and accommodation in Piaget’s (1972, 1977) theory of cognitive development.)

[edit] Sensemaking in command & control

Sensemaking is central to the conceptual framework for military network-centric operations (NCO) espoused by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) (Gartska and Alberts, 2004). Sensemaking in NCO theory is said to consist of three interrelated activities:

  • Forming an awareness of key elements relevant to the situation. This entails knowing "the who, what, when and where."
  • Forming an understanding of what it all means in some bounded context, based upon past experiences, training, education and cognitive capabilities. This entails:
    • Forming hypotheses and making inferences, i.e. generalizations (predictions or anticipations) about future events.
    • Forming a sense of the implications for different courses of action.
  • Making decisions by:
    • Generating alternative response actions to control the situation.
    • Identifying the objectives, constraints, and factors that influence the feasibility and desirability of each alternative.
    • Conducting an assessment of these alternatives.

In a joint/coalition military environment, sensemaking is complicated by numerous of technical, social, organizational, cultural, and operational factors. A central hypothesis of NCO, however, is that the quality of shared sensemaking and collaboration will be better in a "robustly networked" force than in a platform-centric force, empowering people to make better decisions. According to NCO theory, there is a mutually reinforcing relationship among and between individual sensemaking, shared sensemaking, and collaboration.

A symposium on Sensemaking, sponsored by the Command and Control Research Program (CCRP) of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence, was held in Vienna, Virginia, on 23-25 October 2001. The goal of this meeting was to bring together knowledgeable researchers and practitioners from industry, academia, and government to cross-fertilize the best sensemaking ideas and practices (Leedom, 2001).

[edit] Sensemaking and situation assessment

The DoD concept of sensemaking is very similar to that of situation assessment, an umbrella term for the various forms of cognitive processing involved in maintaining situational awareness (SA) (see Endsley, 1995). But while situation assessment is generally thought of as a process of fitting the observed facts to a familiar model, sensemaking implies more of an inductive and constructive process - actively creating awareness and understanding to account for many vague and disparate pieces of information concerning multiple decision-critical events that occur simultaneously over different functional areas. While the original work on situation assessment concentrated on how individuals maintain SA at the tactical level, sensemaking theorists have primarily focused on how shared awareness and understanding are developed within command and control (C2) organizations at the operational level. At the tactical level, individuals monitor and assess their immediate physical environment in order to predict where different elements will be in the next moment. At the operational level, where the situation is far broader, more complex and uncertain, and evolves over hours and days, the organization must collectively make sense of enemy dispositions, intentions and capabilities, as well as anticipate the (often unintended) effects of own-force actions on a complex system of systems.

[edit] Sensemaking research

  • Dervin (1983, 1992, 1996) has investigated individual sensemaking, developing theories underlying the “cognitive gap” that individuals experience when attempting to make sense of observed data.
  • Weick (1988, 1993, 1995) has researched sensemaking at the organizational level, providing insight into factors that surface as organizations address either uncertain or ambiguous situations.

Because much of this applied psychological research is grounded within the context of systems engineering and human factors, there exists a strong desire for concepts and performance to be measurable and for theories to be testable. Accordingly, sensemaking and situational awareness are viewed as working concepts that enable us to investigate and improve the interaction between man and information technology. Within this perspective, it is recognized that humans play a significant role in adapting and responding to unexpected or unknown situations, as well as recognized situations.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  • Brickner, M.S. & Lipshitz, R. (2004) Pilot Study: System Model of Situation Awareness: "Sensemaking" and Decision Making in Command and Control. AFRL-HE-WP-TR-2004-071. Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio: U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory.
  • Cohen, M.S., Freeman, J.T. & Wolf S. (1996) Meta-recognition in time stressed decision making: Recognizing, critiquing, and correcting. Human Factors, 38(2):206-219.
  • Dervin, B. (1983). An overview of sense-making research: Concepts , methods and results. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association. Dallas, TX.
  • Dervin, B. (1992). From the mind’s eye of the user: The sense-making qualitative-quantitative methodology. In Glazier, J. and Powell, R. (Eds.) Qualitative research in information management. (pp.61-84). Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.
  • Dervin, B. (1996). Given a context by any other name:Methodological tools for taming the unruly beast. Keynote paper, ISIC 96: Information Seeking in Context. 1-23.
  • Endsley, M. R. (1995) Toward a theory of situation awareness in dynamic systems. Human Factors, 37(1), 32–64.
  • Garstka, J. and Alberts, D. (2004). Network Centric Operations Conceptual Framework Version 2.0, U.S. Office of Force Transformation and Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration.
  • Klein, G., Moon, B. and Hoffman, R.F. (2006a). Making sense of sensemaking I: alternative perspectives. IEEE Intelligent Systems, 21(4), 70-73.
  • Klein, G., Moon, B. and Hoffman, R.F. (2006b). Making sense of sensemaking Ii: a macrocognitive model. IEEE Intelligent Systems, 21(5), 88-92
  • Leedom, D.K. (2001). Final Report: Sensemaking Symposium. (Technical Report prepared under contract for Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications & Intelligence). Vienna, VA: Evidence Based Research. Inc.
  • Piaget, J. (1972). To Understand Is To Invent. New York: The Viking Press, Inc.
  • Piaget, J. (1977). The Development of Thought: equilibration of cognitive structures. (A. Rosen, Trans.) New York: Viking
  • Weick, K. (1988). Enacted sensemaking in crisis situations. Journal of Management Studies, 25, 305-317.
  • Weick, K. (1993). The collapse of sensemaking in organizations: The Mann Gulch disaster. Administrative Sciences Quarterly, 38, 628-652
  • Weick, K (1995). Sensemaking in Organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA:Sage.

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