Hexagon Sensemaking Canvas

As a chemist - by training - I was taught that a researcher is an observer from outside of the system one studies. Whatever the analytic method one obtains information about the system and one must take care not to disturb the system (often molecules or substances) to enable proper assessment of its chemical or physical properties. This holds even when the system is dynamic, i.e., when there are reactions going on inside the reaction vessel.

While doing experiments and measurements it was always extremely important to prevent the environment to change. Everything had to be kept constant and under control in order not to disturb or influence the reaction or measurement.

All that changed radically when I entered a business environment some 10 years later. Following trends in the market, trying to change ones environment by introduction of new products and services innovation became part of the game.

Around 1997/1998 I first ran into Stafford Beer's work on management cybernetics and his Viable Systems Model. I recommend anyone that never heard about all this to have a look at it.

His work is vast and it is beyond the scope here to even try summarize it. The only three things I will mention here is:

  • The VSM features two systems for inside-and-now and outside-and-then and a system for identity management (and changes therein). I had never seen that in any "rake" chart and found it intriguing.
  • The VSM specifically focusses on keeping the system within working specification by keeping lots of balances while the systems sub-systems interact and change all the time.
  • The VSM models both the inside and the external environment of organisations. How many organisation/management tools do that?

Encountering the VSM was my first experience with organisational diagnosing models. A bit later I discovered Weick's work on organisational sensemaking and then the floodgates opened with Checkland's Soft-System-methodology followed by (selected):

  • 1998 - Autopoiesis (Maturana/Varela)
  • 2000 - Law Spheres / Aspects (Dooyeweerd)
  • 2003 - Order, complex, chaos (Kaufmann and others)
  • 2004 - Cynefin sensemaking model (Kurtz/Snowden)
  • 2006 - Semiotic triangle and Box-x (Peirce)
  • 2010 - CSF (Confluence Sensemaking Framework, Kurtz)
  • 2012 - KiF (Knowledge in Formation, Janos Sarbo c.s.)

Of these, VSM, Cynefin, CSF and KiF were all sensemaking models: a tool that can help organisations/teams make sense of situations in order to make better decisions. And all - apart from the VSM - were used or useful to work with narrative materials.

Next I wondered what in the VSM was missing from the other four and again I noticed that inside/outside feature. Inspired by that finding between 2010 and last year my colleagues and I gradually developed the Hexagon Sensemaking Canvas using all mentioned models above as inspiration. After some tweets - to test the waters - the HSC was first published last year under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) license so that anyone can use it freely and improve it

Its current incarnation is version 2016.6 which features a small set of canvasses for different purposes.

  • A regular version that features all imagery and domain names.
  • A processing version that - like the KiF model - shows how an organisation can process/recognize incoming information to reach a decision.
  • A napkin version that - in small format - can be printed on a sheet of paper, drawn on a sandy beach or used as a table cloth when printed (or constructed with tape) in large format.
  • A nested/fractal version that - like the VSM and Keidel's Triangular Organisation Geometry - is useful when evaluation more than one system or when one wants to evaluate situations following branches.

We have used them in a casual café meeting (and the napkin version on an Ibiza beach), in group StoySense sessions and for detailed design/evaluation of a StoryForm in a PNI (Participatory Narrative Inquiry) project.

By sharing it here we hope to help others discover the HSC and get some feedback as it is and will be a work in progress.