Sensemaking Series

Applications have now closed.

The Sensemaking Series is an immersive programme, designed with a group of unique, influential and world-leading partners, including Cognitive Edge (with Cynefin and the concept of naturalising human sense-making at its core) and the International Bateson Institute.

Rooted in complexity, founded in exploring the uniqueness of being human and paradigm-breaking approaches to making sense of the world, this programme will bring together the ideas of Dave Snowden and Nora Bateson, underpinned by their unique methodologies and using the relational and human-centric practices of Warm Data and Sensemaker.

Target Audience

This programme is open to NHS and Healthcare colleagues within the South West region. We also encourage registrations from colleagues who are under-represented in our programmes, including: transgender colleagues, colleagues under the age of 25 and above the age of 55, ethnic minorities (including non-British colleagues) and colleagues currently on parental leave.

Programme contents

Cynefin theory sessions will explore:

Human beings aren’t ants!: Principles of complex adaptive systems and anthro-complexity

In this introductory session, Dave will talk about the importance of seeing human complex systems within a wider field of sense-making that brings the natural sciences to bear on human interactions.

Following a lecture, there will be space for conversation and a sense-making exercise before a final plenary and discussion.

Abduction and Asymmetry: the asymmetric opportunity of patient engagement and monitoring in a complex system.

How do we start from where we are, rather than where we want to be?  In this session, Dave will discuss how to build on the evolutionary potential of the present, as opposed to fixed idealised future states by working with multi-perspective narratives.  The guiding question behind this will be: what it is that we can monitor in complex situations, and how this is very different from managing.

Following a lecture, there will be space for conversation and a sense-making exercise before a final plenary and discussion.

“More is different”: managing for change in a complex system and the opportunities and threats of scale

Complex systems scale by decomposition and recombination as opposed to replication.  Recognition of this entails a different way of approaching change to allow for contextually appropriate transformations to emerge within an overall scaffolding. In this final theory session, Dave will explore this concept of scaling through coherent heterogeneity as opposed to false homogenisation.

Following a lecture, there will be space for conversation and a sense-making exercise before a final plenary and discussion.

Warm data sessions:

The COVID-19 Pandemic is a strong example of how complexity brings many different contexts together: health, economy, science, culture, family, education, history, politics, media, and many more. Though attention had previously been on finding solutions through fixing the ‘parts’ of a system, the Pandemic exposed how approaches that compartmentalised duties without referring to living contexts can – despite good intentions – become part of the problem.

How are we learning to be in our world? How does a system get unstuck?

In a world that has industrialised health into compartmentalised duties, where is it possible to strive for change? The multiple contexts that we all live within pull attention and effort toward fixing the ‘parts’ of a system, but how can we warmly shift the relationships between the contexts? 

A significant shift is possible when the question is changed from how do systems get unstuck, to how do systems learn? 

Warm Data sessions move beyond trans-disciplinary thinking into the rich territory of the transcontextual through noticing how multiple contexts overlap. Immersing in the theory and practice of Warm Data help communities to strengthen their individual and collective capacity to perceive, understand and work with complex issues.

Theory Sessions with Nora Bateson and People Need People Online

This cohort will participate in several People Need People Online sessions: explorative Warm Data inspired practice sessions. People Need People processes have been adopted around the world and helped communities go beyond rigid thinking and polarisation into warmer and kinder domains of understanding. Feedback from Warm Data practitioners indicate that engaging in People Need People sessions has fundamentally shifted their thinking, supported their sense of connection, and fed new shared insights.

Nora Bateson’s theory sessions encourage learning and learning to learn together with curiosity and care through introducing key concepts from Warm Data: Trans-contextual Mutual Learning, Double Binds and Symmathesy. An introduction to ‘abductive process’ through Bateson’s theory is at the core of a Warm Data exploration of how trans-contextual learning happens and how we can create good conditions for this learning.

Throughout the NHS South West Leadership programme, we explore Warm Data/People Need People practices alongside Cynefin/Sensemaker practices. The final part of the Programme is dedicated to creatively exploring how these practices relate and speak to each other. In addition, the Warm Data and Cynefin community support the NHS cohort across the months with creative and reflective practice and care spaces for sharing experience in inventive and imaginative ways.

We learn to listen to and act on the many levels of information that live across relationships and organisations.

The Warm Data Lab process is versatile and currently used by communities in the US, parliaments around the EU, in the UNDP and Islamic women’s groups, as well as by multiple municipalities in Australia, Germany, UK and organisations worldwide.

Whatever your occupation, whatever you do in life, appreciating complexity and transcontextuality, looking for ‘symmathesy’ (mutual learning) and warm data, embracing ambiguity and paradox, will stand you in good stead to tackle the ‘wicked problems’ we now face as a society.

Scribing Images from Keynote

















The programme structure

Please note: Attendance will be required throughout the programme.

Asynchronous and pre-materials will be shared from 9 August 2021.

Welcome session, Wednesday 11 Aug, 1pm – 3pm

Introduction to the programme, participants will be able to meet fellow participants in the cohort and explore the learning journal.

Foundational ideas, 2 September – 7 October 2021

  • Thursday 2 Sep, 1pm – 4pm, Cynefin Theory session
  • Thursday 9 Sep, 1pm – 4pm, Cynefin-orientated workshops + Coaching
  • Thursday 9 Sep, 8pm – 10pm, Care session
  • Thursday 16 Sep, 1pm – 4pm, Cynefin Theory session
  • Thursday 23 Sep, 6pm – 8.30pm, Warm data session
  • Thursday 30 Sep, 6pm – 8.30pm, Warm data session
  • Tuesday 5 Oct, 1pm – 4pm, Cynefin-orientated workshops + Coaching
  • Thursday 7 Oct, 1pm – 4pm, Cynefin Theory session

Experiential workshops, 14 October – 2 December 2021

  • Thursday 14 Oct, 9am – 11am, Care session
  • Thursday 14 Oct, 6pm – 8.30pm, Warm data session
  • Thursday 21 Oct, 6pm – 8.30pm, Warm data session
  • Thursday 28 Oct,1pm – 4pm, Sensemaker
  • Tuesday 2 Nov, 1pm – 4pm, Cynefin-orientated workshops + Coaching
  • Thursday 4 Nov, 1pm – 4pm, Sensemaker
  • Thursday 11 Nov, 9am – 11am, Care session
  • Thursday 11 Nov, 6pm – 8.30pm, Warm data session
  • Thursday 18 Nov, 6pm – 8.30pm, Warm data session
  • Thursday 25 Nov, 1pm – 4pm, Sensemaker  
  • Tuesday 30 Nov, 1pm – 4pm, Cynefin-orientated workshops + Coaching
  • Thursday 2 Dec, 6pm – 8.30pm, Warm data session

Composting sessions taking place from 20 January – 17 February 2022

  • Thursday 20 Jan, 6pm – 8pm, People Need People (PNP) Session
  • Thursday 3 Feb, 6pm – 8.30pm, PNP + Cynefin composting sessions
  • Thursday 10 Feb, 6pm – 8.30pm, PNP + Cynefin composting sessions
  • Thursday 17 Feb, 6pm – 8.30pm, PNP + Cynefin composting sessions

Final event will take place on Wednesday 30 March 2022, 1pm – 4pm

Programme facilitators

Dave Snowden, Is the creator of the Cynefin Framework, and also originated the design of SenseMaker® the world’s first distributed ethnography tool. He is the lead author of Managing complexity (and chaos) in times of crisis: A field guide for decision makers a shared effort between the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission’s science and knowledge service, and the Cynefin Centre.

He divides his time between two roles: founder Chief Scientific Officer of Cognitive Edge and the founder and Director of the Cynefin Centre.  His work is international in nature and covers government and industry looking at complex issues relating to strategy, organisational decision making and decision making.  He has pioneered a science based approach to organisations drawing on anthropology, neuroscience and complex adaptive systems theory. By using natural science as a constraint on the understanding of social systems this avoids many of the issues associated with inductive or case based approaches to research. He is a popular and passionate keynote speaker on a range of subjects, and is well known for his pragmatic cynicism and iconoclastic style.

Nora Bateson is an award-winning filmmaker, writer and educator, as well as President of the International Bateson Institute, based in Sweden. Her work asks the question “How we can improve our perception of the complexity we live within, so we may improve our interaction with the world?”. An international lecturer, researcher and writer, Nora wrote, directed and produced the award-winning documentary, An Ecology of Mind, a portrait of her father, Gregory Bateson.

Her work brings the fields of biology, cognition, art, anthropology, psychology, and information technology together into a study of the patterns in ecology of living systems. Her book, Small Arcs of Larger Circles, released by Triarchy Press, UK, 2016 is a revolutionary personal approach to the study of systems and complexity.

SenseMaker Reflective Tool

To help us in making sense of the collective experience of staff in the NHS, we would value your contribution to our current SenseMaker collection. This may not be used in the full programme, but it gives you a chance to contribute to our ongoing research whilst experiencing the power of ethnographic data collection.  

You can make a singular contribution or multiple entries over the next six months, but if you can complete an entry in the next couple of weeks, we can use this to guide our ongoing approach to leadership interventions.

Sharing the Sensemaking Series

We welcome you to share this opportunity with your healthcare colleagues, if you would like to include the details within a newsletter, on your intranet or social media platforms, you can also link to the details which can be found here, on our website.

Applications have now closed, you can express an interest in this programme by following the hyperlink or scanning the QR code below:


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