By Karl E. Weick
Weick's Sensemaking in Organizations is often cited by people working in (or on the edges of) organizational science, org comm, and related areas. Sensemaking is "literally, the making of sense" in an organization (p.4), something that is distinct from interpretation.
That's awfully vague, isn't it? Forgive me for being vague, but Weick tends to define by discussing what sensemaking is not, or by describing others' conflicting definitions, or by giving examples (pp.4-5). At least that's what I found when I looked up "sensemaking: definition" in the index. But we can learn something about sensemaking from these moves as well.
First, sensemaking is not interpretation. It's "grounded in both individual and social activity" (p.6). It's "about such things as placement of items into frameworks, comprehending, redressing surprise, constructing meaning, interacting in pursuit of mutual understanding, and patterning" (p.6). In contrast to interpretation, it addresses "how the text is constructed as well as how it is read. Sensemaking is about authoring as well as reading" (p.7). Drawing on Garfinkel, Weick argues that in sensemaking, the clarification of human situations "often works in reverse. It is less often the case that an outcome fulfills some prior definition of the situation, and more often the case that an outcome develops that prior definition" (p.11). It is less about discovery than invention (p.13).
Weick identifies seven properties of sensemaking:
- Grounded in identity construction
- Enactive of sensible environments
- Focused on and by extracted cues
- Driven by plausibility rather than accuracy (p.17)
- Nature of problem is itself in question
- Information (amount and reliability) is problematical
- Multiple, conflicting interpretations
- Different value orienttions, political/emotional clashes
- Goals are unclear, or multiple and conflicting
- Time, money, or attention are lacking
- Contradictions and paradoxes appear
- Roles are vague, responsibilities are unclear
- Success measures are lacking
- Poor understanding of cause-effect relationships
- Symbols and metaphors used
- Participation in decision-making fluid (p.93)