What is sensemaking?

Sense-making’ is a model that we have developed for qualitative research into how people buy and use products and services. By changing the frame through which we approach our research - from the frame of ‘consumer decision-making’ to a frame of ‘how people make things make sense’   -  we see more clearly how people use our clients' products and services.  

Our model is based on a broad range of social science theories and has been used in such diverse fields as information science, anthropology, and cognitive psychology.

Why sense-making?

Sense-making draws on the natural human impulse that we all have - a drive to make things make sense. The process of making sense is one of figuring things out. It is an active, ongoing process in which the person tries to find meaning in the situation and basically do their best under the circumstances. At Susan Bell Research, we feel that this very normal, very familiar feeling had somehow been missed by market and social researchers.

What are sensemaking problems?

When clients ask us to research 'why do our customers do XYZ?' or 'How can we make this investment service more efficient?', we envisage it as a sense-making problem.

  • The research question becomes: 'how are people figuring out what product to buy?' or 'how are they working out how to use our service?', 'what does this product mean to this user?'
  • The answer might be: Real people get curious about things. Real people do things because they are bored, or 'jump at the chance'. Real people get around to doing things. Once we understand this, we know how to communicate to them.

How we research sense-making

This is insightful in-depth research which puts the person at the centre of the research process. As sense-making researchers, we explore what kind of mental rethinking people have to do to make sense of things. One of the great insights about sense-making is that people tell themselves stories to explain what is happening to them, or find the meaning in what just happened. We base our work on a sense-making framework:




To find out how sensemaking or our other ideas about complex decisions can be useful to you, email Sue.

1. George Lowenstein, Professor or Psychology and Economics, Carnegie Mellon University

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