Cynefin in Action

Seeking commitment to the implementation of an Urban Water Strategy

 The Cynefin™ framework is ideal for conflict resolution and getting to a place of taking action as the methods

  • Specifically, embrace diversity and multiple perspectives,
  • Focus on understanding the nature of issues
  • The current context is the starting point, not a specific vision of the future.

 A multi-agency government team had prepared a draft strategy for a water plan for the city and needed to engage with multiple stakeholders to move to implementation.

The stakeholders were from multiple levels of government, community representatives, private sector organisations and instrumentalities. Some had been directly consulted in the development of the draft, some had not. The plan encompassed 3 different Ministries of the State government and required liaison with the Federal government.

The focus of the process was to be implementation, as the overall purpose and direction had been agreed by the commissioning departments. There was significant disagreement within and between different groups, and some wished to continue to lobby to change the essence of the operating plan.

Designing the process

The principles for this engagement were explicitly designed to maximise interactions between people who had not engaged with each other in the past, while the use of the coloured ‘hexies’ ( hexagonal shaped post it notes) provided clear visual patterns of how different groups perceived the same issue.

The client had generated a number of implementation issues that wished to be considered, and groups mapped these to the framework in answer to the question

“ in considering this issue, how would you progress its implementation? In which domain(s) would you place it’.

Leveraging the Visual Patterns.. and making progress in half a day.

One of the most significant results of this workshop were the conversations arising from the visual patterns ( descriptive self-awareness) that were evident from where different groups placed the issues on the framework.

For example:

“ Look, the engineers see Communication with the community belonging in the Simple(Clear) domain, while the community representatives think it is complex”


“ It seems as though the local government are ready to try a number of different approaches to water saving; we did not think they would be up for that”


“There are a number of areas for further research that we all seem to agree are needed. So we could get on with deciding who should be the lead agency.”

Descriptive self-awareness is one of the most powerful concepts in complex facilitation. Perspective shift is necessary but not sufficient for Innovation and change. How much more effective when perspective shifts as a result of an experience of our own making.



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