How we do sense-making research

We use sense-making as a diagnostic tool


Sense-making gives us a diagnostic tool to explain why people act in a certain way. Using the framework above, we identify the cues the person paid attention to, how they framed the problem, how influenced they were by social and cultural values, how this fitted in with their sense of self, and the emotions that were generated.


How we use the framework in interview guides

People can rarely express 'why' they do things because their personal motivations, emotions and cultural influences are beyond conscious awareness. Therefore, our interview guides are not simply a list of direct questions. Instead, we base our questions and the projective techniques we use on our sense-making framework which we have developed from social and cognitive psychology and sociology.

  1. We ask people to tell their story in their own way. Humans have a drive to share their experiences.  How they tell their stories reveals the cognitive frames they are using to make sense of the world.
  2. We focus on actual behaviour, in context.  As well as the behaviour itself we set out to learn what preceded the behaviour, including all of the false starts, the changes of mind, and the uncertainties.
  3. Then we focus on what happens afterwards, particularly the stories that people tell about what happened. We listen carefully to how they tell the story - what they say, how they say it, what they emphasise and what they do not mention.
  4. We use sophisticated questioning and projective and enabling techniques to go behind and beyond the story we have been told.

Our sense-making research draws on our extensive experience in qualitative and quantitative research and our backgrounds in marketing, the arts, and the social sciences.

How we use sense-making to interpret the findings

  • We identify how each element of the framework contributed to the outcome - for example we identify the frame of reference (cognitive frame) that people use to understand the product or concept.
  • If the way the problem is framed led to a poor outcome for the client or customer, we advise the client how to communicate their product or service accordingly
  • Similarly, we reveal how strongly social influences or cultural expectations impact perceptions of the product or service, and what to do about it.
  • We show whether motivation to use the product or service comes from the 'ought self' or the 'ideal self', and why that matters to the client
  • And of course, more!


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