SenseMaker® is a narrative-based research, monitoring and decision-making methodology. It provides “near real-time” mapping of individual opinions, attitudes, perceptions and motivations.
SenseMaker® consists of several micro-narrative collection tools, a pattern detection software and an underlying methodology that adheres to the basic principles of working in a complex space.


Design begins by finding the right level of granularity for the study. The purpose to make sense of the present situation in order to act on it. For example, choosing a topic to achieve world peace or stop all wars would be extremely difficult to turn into actionable interventions. Traditional surveys using Likert rating scales run into a similar problem. What can decision-makers do with a 6.5 out of 10 score? What actions informed by this number should be carried out? Does setting a goal to “move the needle” to 7 or 8 help or harm?

Narratives are at the right level of granularity and are ideal for complex issues because they provide context and answer the “why” question. Think of them as basic Lego bricks. They can be assembled to form structures just like patterns emerge from narratives.

Narrative collection

In the Narrative collection phase, people acting as personal ethnographers share their personal experiences as stories, voice recordings, pictures, drawings and sketches. Rather than focusing on fully constructed stories, the distributed ethnographic tool captures fragmented narrative, everyday conversations, in their original form and context. Contributions can be made in their own time, using their mobile phones, laptops or other desktop computers.

Respondents give further meaning by “tagging” their stories.

The coffee (tea) example shows a triad signifier with 3 equally valued ingredients.
The dyad signifier shows two extremes. Respondents move the slider to a location that fits the experience described in the narrative.

Analysis & sense-making

The tagging process mathematically converts qualitative into quantitative data. SenseMaker® software generates visual patterns backed with explanatory micro-narratives. Each dot is a narrative.

In this example there clearly seems to be several concerns about the organization legally protecting itself in case of accidents. Understanding why requires context. Decision-makers can simply click on a dot and the narrative pops out.
Clusters are obvious areas for deeper analysis. So are outliers to make holistic sense of the present.


SenseMaker® offers a variety of ways of displaying data ranging from standard bar charts to 2D narrative landscapes.

Numbers on their own appear objective but are not persuasive; narratives by themselves may be persuasive but are not objective. By combining the two, SenseMaker® enables action.

Instead of asking “How do we improve X ?”, the intervention question becomes “How do we get more stories like these and fewer stories like those?”