Introducing sensemaking

Sensemaking is a new way to think about customer experience research, especially how people seek information and how they decide.

Sensemaking is about how people make sense of their world -  communications they receive, information they want, or the services they experience.  It is perfect for understanding how people try to figure out how to solve a problem - on their own, through search, and conversations with others.  

Unlike other research methods - such as customer journeys and choice modelling - sensemaking takes social relationships and connections into account. We are, after all, social creatures.

Unlike customer journey research, sensemaking research is for experiences that are not linear.

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  • How people search
  • How people deal with information overload
  • When customers want self-service and when they need your help
  • Designing a process, such as a registration process
  • How people make sense of the instructions for an unfamiliar service or device.


Sensemaking is where our deep qualitative insights come from

Sensemaking is about how people make sense of their experiences

When we adopted sensemaking as a core qualitative research method we stopped designing the typical 'question an answer' format of qualitative research interview. Instead, we see the researcher act as a kind of mentor, helping the person they are speaking to introspect and bring their memories and emotions to the interview.

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Sensemaking Case Study - vegetarianism and plant-based foods

Sensemaking explains the evolving vegetarian experience perfectly

The vegetarian landscape is evolving rapidly, with the advent of plant-based foods. Becoming a vegetarian was always a big decision but now it has become more complicated. Our research based on sensemaking shows that becoming a vegetarian is not just a choice between different food products; it's a manifestation of someone's self-identity at a stage in their life. The decision to stop eating meat is only one part of it - vegetarians, pescatarians, flexitarians and others review and revise their diet on an almost daily basis as they 'make sense of' how to balance their diet, their social beliefs and their social relationships. 

We know that some vegetarians and vegans will never eat anything that looks or tastes like meat. However, plant-based meat substitutes do appeal to a segment of the vegetarian and vegan market.  However, there are some strict rules that marketers must follow. There must be no risk - perceived or real - that a product sold to look like meat actually contains meat.  This fear is a strong deterrent for some consumers.  

We have uncovered key 'identity flashpoints' that show us the inner tensions and conflicts that are often the trigger for behaviour change.

Sensemaking information journeys

Our Sensemaking approach gives organisations qualitative insight into how and why people search for and use information. 

Sensemaking is most useful to understand 

  • The information journeys for difficult or life-changing decisions and events
  • The information journeys when users don't have any kind of mental map to guide them
  • The information journeys that are full of trial and error.

We learn

  • What search terms do users start out with and how do those terms evolve?
  • How people use digital resources in tandem with other channels - for example consulting an expert after searching is a valid sensemaking strategy
  • What goes wrong in this process, and how do users 'right themselves'.
  • What resources, content, navigation or design affordances will help to create a more coherent and efficient user journey

 Sensemaking information interviews use exploratory qualitative research methods:

  • One on one user interviews,  and/or

  • Sensemaking interviews sometimes benefit from interaction - for example couple / family interviews

 Our sensemaking model

The questions and topics covered in sensemaking interview are shown in our unique sensemaking model which draws on a broad range of social science theories as well as insights from sensemaking projects in information science, anthropology, and cognitive psychology. We can explain it when you This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



The benefit of a sensemaking approach

If you keep hearing the same things in your research projects, you may need to disrupt your own way of thinking. We believe that seeing things from a sensemaking perspective will help you see your research problem with fresh eyes.


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