Dialogue is collectively making sense of things.

Peter JonesDialogic Design, Wu Wei

Design with Dialogue, our Toronto community of practice, is moving into its 20th month of regular sessions at OCAD’s Strategic Innovation Lab. Our new website shows current and upcoming events, and we’ll update the archives from the old site soon enough.

We are making new connections between dialogic group communication, design problem solving, facilitated consultation, and sensemaking.

Recent posts have perhaps tipped any reader to what I believe to be pressing concerns. While I have opinions and ideas about open innovation, the viability of the iPad in healthcare and educations, creating new ecosystems for local innovation, the marriage of systems thinking with design practices, and so forth, I’m not sure I’m contributing to solutions discussing what’s popular.

I’m more interested in how committed collectives of people – as in organizations and mixed stakeholder groups – might find breakthroughs in problem understanding and collective action. The practices of sensemaking (Dervin, Klein, Weick) are called for to manage these complex situations, but do we know how to make sense together? Technologies of dialogue are necessary to bridge the distance between an individuals’ perspective and collective agreements for wise action.

Can this be done online, people ask. My first response is, why? Are our situations not serious enough to call for taking the time to engage in person? Do any of us really believe that crowdsourcing leads to better sensemaking? To borrow the sorry monkeys on typewriters analogy, will a million people typing answers to questions online (devoid of context or their commitment to act) create a Shakespeare of solutions? Will people online somehow arrive at a better sense of a shared situation than 12 committed stakeholder who are willing to act on their own decisions?

Online, we can facilitate socially-recruited responses to focus questions, we can collect commentary and clarifications, we can publish our synthesis and findings. But can we perform collective sensemaking?  If so, where is the research suggesting this? I think this matters, because if effective collective decision making requires the understanding acquired by sensemaking to result in high-leverage shared action, we might stop fooling ourselves that the efficiency of “everything online, all the time” will achieve our goals.