Out-focussed (domain-novice) facilitation in Sensemaking projects for better results

Last week I participated in a very interactive and useful workshop on Sensemaker®. Sensemaker provides a platform to gather, process, and visualize knowledge. Part of the discussions in smaller groups went on the application of Sensemaker. One of the discussed aspects was the possible result of Sensemaking projects in the context of the customer. In this blog I’ll defend a bold statement: “the ‘novice-domain’ or ‘out-focused’ facilitator is more likely to provide surprising or unexpected results then the field-expert of in-focused.”

Underlying to this statement is the pure uniqueness of Sensemaking projects. It enables large-scale fine-tuned listening to an unlimited number of people. It provides decision makers, innovation seekers and researchers in general, a method to distill hidden or weak information/knowledge. This is based on the Cynefin framework and the Sensemaker Ecology, Also check Dave Snowden’s blogs.

Before going into details some explanation. In 2006 I learned out-focussed coaching in personal and team potential exploration programs. Out-focussed means that as coach (or facilitator) you do not need to understand the underlying problem being discussed. As coach you focus on the convictions of the coachee.

An example: Let’s say I coach Peter. Peter’s question is his effectiveness in his team. In the coaching session he recalls a difficult situation in his team. In stead of asking him to explain the situation (to understand what happened) I ask him what he wanted to get out of the situation, what prevented him to achieve this and what he can do different next time. As Peter doesn’t need to explain the situation (which he already knows), we save time and address the problem at hand directly. 
At the end of the session Peter leaves with a better understanding on his own actions and convictions. The result would have been much less if I coached in-focussed. Asking questions on the situation; what his history was with the team; explaining similar situations I had been; etc.

My statement is that out-focussed (of novice-domain experts) facilitators, are able to generate more surprising knowledge and results on the subject then domain experts who integrate their expertise during the whole project. Of course the out-focused facilitator needs to be an experienced and knowledgeable (big) group facilitator. He also is an Cynefin and Sensemaking expert.

During Sensemaking workshops and in the configuration of the Sensemaker tool, an out-focused facilitator is able to extract and use more and more unexpected information from the participants. By being out-focused the facilitator is also not tempted to steer the outcome of the evaluate the (intermediate) results himself. The latter is described as being in-focused.   
Out-focused Sensemaking expert enables knowledge, insights, answers and innovation ideas to emerge. Any intervention (a word, a proposal, a gesture) from the facilitator, is a risk that this unexpected emergence of knowledge is subdued.

For the same reason, using internal Sensemaking experts is not advisable as the risk is even bigger. Unless of course the facilitator is not an domain-expert and is free from internal (political) strings.

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