Cynefin21 – Future of Work and Leadership Forum

Webinar Recording: October 2020

How does the lens of complexity contribute to making sense, making meaning, taking action, and monitoring for effectiveness in the various and variable worlds that may emerge in the next decade? Julie Cunningham from Complexability moderates as Dave Snowden, Lucy Taksa, Richard Claydon and Josie Gibson explore their multiple priorities and perspectives.

This session explores from a range of perspectives how the lens of complexity contributes to making sense, making meaning, taking action, and monitoring for effectiveness in the various and variable worlds that may emerge in the next decade.

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Cynefin21 – The Importance of Social Research Forum

Webinar Recording: October 2020

The Cynefin Centre for Applied Complexity is expanding its global network. The Australian based ARIO Foundation has become an international partner.

For the past 5 years the Cynefin Centre has developed radical new approaches for social engagement and understanding of complex issues and public policy. They have partnered with Universities, Governments and International agencies in areas including refugees, aged care, health, international aid, domestic violence, COVID, social housing, community engagement and the justice system. The innovative approaches to engagement, sense-making and action provides a voice to those with lived experience, regardless of educational attainment or cultural background.

Dave Snowden and Australian advocates for social change explore critical social and policy issues facing Australia, and the role a research partnership of this nature can play.

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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.

Understanding the Context
Stakeholder feedback as a basis for action

A newly appointed HR Director from a major University was seeking fast and accurate feedback from every faculty, academic. administrative staff and students on their views of the effectiveness of the human resource department as part of a major cultural change process.  The HR staff of the university were to engage in the same process as a point of comparison and to check for levels of shared understanding.

The Cynefin® framework provided the ideal vehicle for a cost-effective data collection and sense-making process, with aggregation across the workshops.

In an elapsed time of 10 days, 2 consultants using a combination of 4 complex methods, facilitated 8 workshops that engaged over 300 people.  An identical complex facilitation process was used which started with capturing the experiences of those attending answering the prompting question

“  thinking about the experiences you have had with the HR department in the past 12 -18 months.  What would you share? “

Each 3-hour workshop generated data, made sense through clustering and finding themes, mapped the themes onto the Cynefin® framework, established priorities, and from their perspectives, set priorities for action.

The aggregation of the all of the workshop outcomes onto a combined framework, with colour coding for different cohorts, provided the decision-makers with a visual map of the different perspectives, common themes and outliers, and very clear direction for ‘where to next’.

The aggregation was shared with all participants as part of the feedback process.

The complex methods:
anecdote circles, sense-making, pattern identification, categorisation,

The principles:
descriptive self-awareness, granularity, radical, transparency

Scalability is critical. So is transparency.  This process demonstrates how large numbers of people can be engaged in a short space of time at the level of granularity that is relevant to their experience – and provide decision support information at multiple levels.