Start making sense

Last time I was in Portland Place the roads were closed, 5,000 people were on the street, Bono had scaled Broadcasting House and seemed about to plant a flag to commemorate U2’s takeover of the BBC. Happily, my return finds he’s been coaxed down, the roads are once more full of traffic.

I’m going to RIBA to see another terrible Celt, the rather more sedentary Dave Snowden, who is equally proudly but rather less bombastically unveiling version 3.0 of Cognitive Edge‘s Sensemaker software suite.

Dave kicks off by showing recent projects which demonstrate the latest additions to the software. There are more triangles in the signification part of the input process in these examples. Dave explains using triangles places a greater cognitive load on the brain during signification, resulting in a more meaningful result. Formulating appropriate triangles in an exercise during the accreditation programme certainly taxed my meagre intelligence, though I’m sure it’s something one develops with practice. At least I have first hand experience of their superiorityover the slider mechanism.

I was initially disappointed to hear the triangular interface element had been patented, which seems to preclude the possiblity of data collection through another tool. Much of my previous work has involved skunkworks-style prototyping of new tools, usually in Lotus Notes/Domino.

As it slowly dawned on me that attempting to demonstrate software designed to make sense of the results of complex mass-consultation exercises is unlikely to impress a handful of early adopters by merely reflecting their own responses back to them without demonstrating the formation of observable patterns, I realised a different approach is needed this time. Stories must be identified and narrative employed.

The best stories I’ve heard about SenseMaker centre on weak signal detection. During SenseMarker training, we were given test data which included a study of news stories in Iranian media. Signifying the stories against pre-determinted criteria and plotting against three axes creates a three-dimensional plane like that in the diagram.

Signifying new stories over time (yellow dots) and comparing them to the existing landscape can indicate the emergence of new beliefs. The cluster to the lower left of this diagram could provide early indications of new types of extremism.

In other examples, a drinks manufacturer and a Liverpool museum both use SenseMaker to obtain instant feedback on consumer experiences. This enables them to respond more quickly if action is required.

Lastly, Dave introduced an open project about gardens which anyone ca participate in here.

I’m going spend some time sitting in mine, thinking about projects where I can see SenseMaker contributing to better understanding – I’ve come up with about five already.