This is the first piece in a new series “Notes from our Learning Journeys”, emerging out of a new community of practice exploring how Social System Mapping (using sumApp and Kumu in particular) contributes to SenseMaking in transformation networks.
Notes from a conversation Phil Metzler had with Laura Kaestele to harvest her perspective on what SenseMaking means to her work and for network weaving. Phil says they don’t capture the richness and enthusiasm of Laura’s perspective, but he hopes these notes give a broad glimpse of her active and evolving experience.
The network Laura works with is centered around a vision of ‘connective culture’ and offers holistic social tools and educational experiences in nature and community. The network started as an organization (or hub-and-spoke network) and is transitioning to become a self-organising network since the leader recognized that the opportunities exceeded her own capacities and that the impact was not big enough to respond to and balance the needs and pain in the world. Laura’s contribution to facilitating network development led to a social system mapping project that started in January.
Within a larger list of followers and contacts, about 500 people have been active in events, groups, or projects and have experienced ‘connective culture’ in person. These are considered network members and invited to join the map using both sum-app and kumu to gather and visualise data. So far 130+ people (and growing) are participating in the mapping process. After an initial presentation of the kumu map to the network core group, six people have stepped forward with a greater interest in the mapping process, particularly SenseMaking, and exploring the value and potential of the network map.
Laura reflected that SenseMaking is an additional layer of meaning we are giving to things that are happening. We see and experience something, but what knowing, patterns, action or insight are we deriving from it? Asking questions like ‘Now what?’ or ‘What’s next?’ can stimulate this kind of thinking. How we interpret what happened, listening to a piece of music, or getting a push on the shoulder for instance, and the stories we un/consciously create about it reflect who we are. Beneath the sense we make are the needs, intentions, conditioning, and blind spots we hold as individuals and human collectives.
SenseMaking as part of social system mapping lies at the intersection of technology (digital map), people (network members), and consciousness (our mind-sets). It invites us to be present with what is alive: to observe, notice, and discover what is meaningful, functional, missing, or possible with using the map as a tool for network weaving. In the process, we may be able to uncover assumptions and blind spots, make the invisible visible, understand patterns and developmental trends, identify opportunities, gaps, and leverage points to learn, evolve, and take wiser (collective) action.
The six people who initially responded to Laura’s invitation to collaborate in map SenseMaking brought different skills and interests. Some see SenseMaking as a way to understand patterns of behavior and relationship, others to evaluate purpose and functionality of the map (views), a process of learning network thinking or they see the potential for connecting skills, collaborative projects, and local practice groups. This group will provide a platform for dialogue and discernment to make sure the process continues to best serve the network while building internal understanding and connection.
Levels of SenseMaking
The first application of SenseMaking that emerged in Laura’s work with the SenseMaking team was responding to the challenge for members to understand the mapping and engagement processes and to make the map more accessible and attractive. She described the different steps in the process as ‘thresholds of participation’ that each person either clears or gets hung up on. Articulating and helping people connect with the purpose of the map and the opportunities it can open up, providing tech support, sharing clear attractive invitations, or hosting network zoom calls can all help build “bridges” to get them over the different thresholds.
Secondly, the mapping process and emerging outputs can empower the network to ‘see itself’ and to visualise the present network as a whole – its relationships, projects, skills, scope, or capacities. Highlighting specific views in the map and using decorations, filters or clusters can help participants recognize where energy is flowing or perhaps stuck; where relationships are strong and where there are gaps; or where new potential and opportunities might lie – for more connection, collaboration, support, and co-creation.
The network development, specifically in network core meetings, and more recently the mapping process have already catalysed further growth and evolution of the network. Relationships have been strengthened and expanded, values and purpose developed, support exchanged and multiple collaborative projects and communities of practice have emerged in the past year. So far most of this has happened in the network core and through the map and wider network engagement they plan to expand this to more people.
Social system mapping can also inform how the network makes sense of its role and presence within the larger contexts in which it operates. The broad vision it began with involved finding opportunities to catalyse social and cultural change towards a life-supporting, connective, locally rooted, and globally impactful culture. The purpose is to embody and share ‘connective culture’, its values, practices, and toolkit as a way of being in deep, nurturing relation to self, other people, nature, and the world at large.
Beyond the intra-network perspective, the mapping has the potential to fuel curiosity about the network’s greater relation to systems and potential to respond to what the world needs. Laura can see this happening currently through visioning, alignment of purpose, reflections on system breakdown, and collective trauma – present in anti-/racism awareness – or dealing with ecological and climate emergency and processing (environmental) grief. This will likely increase later on in the development when moving from a self-organising to a system-shifting network.
Laura shares an integral awareness in the network and essence of ‘connective culture’ is an understanding of interconnectedness and inter-being with all of life ‘we are because we belong’. By maintaining a human-centered approach, social system mapping can help participants fulfill human needs of belonging, sense of purpose, identity, and community. Great synergy and collective human capacity is evolving at the intersection of technology, people, and consciousness that we work with as social system mappers and network weavers. We can use SenseMaking on an individual, collective, and systemic level as a practice to discover and unfold the surmisable, unknown, or untapped potential of networks to thrive.
Laura Kaestele works as a regenerative designer, community organiser, grower, project coordinator, action researcher, and facilitator with integral design thinking, permaculture, regenerative agriculture, human transformation, team and network development. She inspires, connects, supports, and catalyses action and growth for teams, projects, and networks to make a positive impact. Her passion and life mission is to co-create a thriving, regenerative, and connective human presence in collaboration with planet earth.
Phil Metzler is a consultant and facilitator who values making sense of complexity as a pathway to building community resilience and increasing consciousness. He’s currently leading the Community Resilience Guild, a small not-for-profit based in Goshen, Indiana, while pursuing a professional coaching license.