Today I want to introduce you to the Cynefin Framework – which offers some fascinating insights into the challenges of resilience, and some of the potential reasons why this concept is difficult to define and achieve.
It continues the theme in some of the earlier posts around culture and how our world views are often determined without our conscious understanding.
Cynefin is a Welsh word (pronounced ku-nev-in) that signifies the multiple factors in our environment and our experiences, that influence our decisions and behaviours in ways we can never understand. The framework was created by Dave Snowden.
The framework is illustrated by the graphic above/right, and I have cited two specific references at the end of the post for those who want to explore more detail.
Some key points about this framework. First it is very detailed and I do not pretend to be able to describe it fully in a single post. Secondly, when used to its full extent it is a sense-making model rather than a categorisation model. Meaning you derive the model from data about the entity you are exploring rather than take a fixed 2×2 model and try and fit your object of analysis into it somewhere.
Snowden started to develop the model in the Knowledge Management space but with the incorporation of the use of narrative and complexity theory he has developed a fairly unique framework. The framework has 5 domains, defined by the nature, and understanding, of cause and effect in each;
- Chaotic, and
On the right-hand side, the two domains represent “order”, while the left-hand side represents the domains of “unorder”. In the ordered domains one significant area of difference is between the availability of knowledge. It is easier to work with what we known and we can use immediately (the Simple domain) rather than that which we do not yet know – but is knowable if we spend enough time and effort to find out (Complicated).
The framework suggests how you go about making decisions in the different domains and the kind of practices that will work best. Compare the two diagonals – bottom right where all seem to want to be (or conventional wisdom tells us is optimal) and the top left which the authors suggest is mroe common than we believe.
- Simple is the domain of “Best Practice” because things are known (the information is available to all) we Sense the environment, Categorise and Respond
- In the Complex we really do not know, nor is it readily knowable. – we have to experiment (probe) sense the outcome and respond.
- Best Practices do not apply, we need something described as emergent practice.
Best Practice, it is argued, is past practice. You do not prepare for uncertainty in the future by following a recipe book of what worked in the past. This line of arguement accords with my own thinking on what we need to be doing to progress the cause of resilience.
It is also an approach that encourages continued assessment of the environment we are working in, which may enable better detection of weak signals and earlier detection and response to problems. More building blocks for resilience.
It also useful as it includes a domain in which we would normally expect to practice “Crisis Management” -the Chaotic. The framework encourages the concept of “bouncing forward” from a crisis by not just appointing a crisis manager to manage the chaotic – but having a seperate team to focus on the opportunities for doing things differently. When the crisis is over the chance will be gone.
Resilience is an emergent property, we need to explore different areas of thinking that deal with emergent patterns. Cynefin (and Complexity Theory) does this, with a specific warning – ïn the Simple domain emergent patterns do not form on their own!
The craft of resilience needs to have tools – the various models of understanding culture are some of those tools. The next step is to consider how a skilled craftsman might use these tools.
The raw materials of our craft are people and organisations – in order to change them we must first understand them.
Anybody still with me? I will come back to this model another day.
Do these ideas resonate with folks in the BC/Resilience community?
References for further reading;
- Snowden, David J and Boone, Mary E, “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making”, Harvard Business Review, November 2007
- Kurtz, C.F. and Snoden, D.J., “The new dynamics of strategy: Sense-making in a complex and complicated world”, IBM Systems Journal, Vol 42, No.3, 2003