Sensemaking is a humanities-based approach to knowledge production that looks to build deep understanding of a people and what matters to them. It is derived heavily from phenomenology, particularly Martin Heidegger's notion of "being" as a filter through which we understand and interpret the world around us.

Focusing more heavily on cultures rather than individuals, sensemaking seeks to understand how people exist within the context of their culture and how that culture informs their understanding of their relationship to the world. Sensemaking is a rigorous methodology that involves consuming and understanding a culture's key texts and language and developing firsthand knowledge of how its people live. "When we practice sensemaking," Christian Madsbjerg writes, "we stop seeing a room as a space filled with individual items and we start seeing the structure that form a cultural reality."

Sensemaking is a process of analytical empathy that seeks to understand not just what happened, but how people relate to what happened. It is less interested in what people think about things than the structures that undergird that thinking.

Madsbjerg positions sensemaking in opposition to what he calls algorithmic thinking. Where the latter is broad and shallow, sensemaking is concrete, deep, and rich.

Sensemaking helps us identify the most appropriate contexts for data collection, and then helps us bring that data together into a perspective on the world. It doesn't provide strict turn-by-turn directions, but a north star we can use to orient ourselves.


Related

Citations

Madsbjerg, Christian. Sensemaking: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm. Hachette Books, 2017.