How do we scale our sensemaking?

Sensemaking is the process by which people give meaning to their collective experiences. It is the “the ongoing retrospective development of plausible images that rationalize what people are doing” [wikipedia]

I believe that collective sensemaking will be a big category of web3 tools.

This belief is driven by:

  1. the recent Greenpilled podcast with trach from yearn where he talks about moving from command and control to sense and respond type architectures.
  2. discussion at GitcoinDAO about how to navigate trade-offs without having so many phone calls.
  3. a handful of other discussions about sensemaking tools & processes in DAOs.

I’d love to use this thread as a schelling point for discovering & evaluating different sensemaking tools. – What novel sensemaking tools/processes, or sensemaking tools/processes for DAOs, should GitcoinDAO be aware of?

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Philosopher Forrest Landry has developed EGP (ephemeral group process), specifically to facilitate large groups making sense and wise decisions at scale. It avoids some of the problems of group decision making (charismatic speakers taking the focus; some folks not being great with public/online dialogue; polarization, etc). It involves a process for getting into smaller groups, whittling down to figure out the most important questions, then bringing it back into the group and repeating… He discusses it here: Ephemeral Group Process & Civilization Design (Visionary Solutions with Forrest Landry: Episode #2) - YouTube
I think I may be able to get him to present/intro it for the Gitcoin community.

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This is especially interesting to me as Weick is a famous theorist in my somewhat obscure field of organisation studies (Ostrom, another Gitcoin influence, is much more famous).

His work is perhaps slightly different than most Web3 influences in that he is typically interested in looking at events - he is famous for his case/stories/narratives/events - and then attempting to reflect on how certain decisions were made. It is less how to do something, than understanding what we are doing.

In the Mann Gulch example, he does some detective work to uncover what influences caused the collapse of sensemaking during a fire disaster, finding causes like a lack of previous team building, growing individualism, etc. Sort of like how did these routines get locked in and then seeing how people compounded them over time, in this particular case with disastrous results. This article is canonical in org studies!

Or in later work, on jazz and improvisation Weick neatly unpacks how the best musicians, in terms of improvisation, are actually deeply knowledgeably about structure and resources. But crucially are not too wedded to them and are able to break from routine. In this case, it’s more the positive way that sensemaking can work, where people are able to stay without some structure, but adeptly depart as needed, then return (the ‘essence’ of jazz more or less).

I actually think GitcoinDAO is quite a sensemaking-aware organisation. There’s structure and routine, but contributors are given quite a bit of freedom and scope to improvise where needed, e.g. the BrightId case in the last round.

This has inspired me to pick up some Weick again. It’s been too long!

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I think some of the work we are embarking on with @samspurlin and The Ready will help us think through this as a collective.

Sense-making needs constant iteration, flexibility, and innovation to succeed. Pol.is is optimized to facilitate meaningful discussion and cut through conflict.

  • Pol.is manifests human cooperation across differences, rather than optimizing clicks, views, or headcounts, which thrive on competition and polarization and often foster conflict.
  • Pol.is conversations do not allow for replies.
  • Po.is employs diversity scoring.
  • Pol.is is designed to overturn existing power structures and hierarchies.

Check out the Collective Decision-Making section of this report about participatory governance in Taiwan, where almost half of the 23-million population has participated in governmental Pol.is conversations.

Across the powers driving GitcoinDAO - at the leadership, contributor, and community level - we could utilize Pol.is conversations to form shared goals. Specifically, conversations around grant round eligibility and structures, workstream objectives, and product and engineering road-mapping might be powerful pilot areas for Pol.is.

Additionally, we can consider applying RadicalxChange Voice more, which is a combination of liquid democracy, Pol.is, and quadratic voting. However, the overhead cost for managing RxC Voice processes is slightly higher than with simple Pol.is conversations. Anyway, I’m curious to see what the ongoing RxC Voice experiments in MMM bring about @Fred, @seanmac, and @seedphrase.

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The above looks quite useful generally, though I have reservations about the further financialisation of voting through QV. However, sensemaking is not quite about the formation of shared goals in the forward-thinking sense (though insights from it can be used that way). Also, I actually think one of Gitcoin’s strongest points is how much clarity there is in its stated aims: to fund public goods in the Ethereum ecosystem, then extend this further out into society, with a dash of solarpunk energy as an aesthetic motivating force. Then really the debates are about which positive externalities we want to help further along.

Sensemaking is more useful in cases where we would be trying to understand events that have occurred and trying to figure out what led to certain decisions and outcomes and whether we might tweak things in the future. For example, the BrightID case requires a certain ‘quick fix’ as the round in closing, but it might be a good case study for sensemaking, to try and understand how the situation arose. A good example would be how the community survey suggested that the community prefers to fund public goods rather than be overly strict to the letter of the law and remove a good project. This is a good example of retroactive sensemaking, where despite the rules stating one thing, ground up organic preferences overrode them.

I’d recommend using PSi because we scale sense making through small group sense making. We do things slightly differently because we use small voice chats to get people to evaluate a situation or a challenge together. It’s quicker and you get nuanced insight compared to having to read lots of threads. We also designed PSi in a way that encourages people to be accepting of a different approach or perspective on a topic to avoid herding.

PSi is based research in Collective Intelligence, as well as my practice as a Group Facilitator. I’ve worked in co-production of services and systems convening for the UK public sector (like local government and public hospitals) and it’s so important to have a supportive, facilitated environment for sense making otherwise people are immediately put off and won’t re-engage. Essentially we had to work hard to keep the sense making on PSi meaningful and reduce the impact of bias…but also make it a participatory experience that is friendly on peoples time and not a huge cognitive load. This is what’s the most important about scaling sense making. Scaling leads to noise, cognitive overload and potentially herding or polarisation of opinion. Also an under appreciated challenge of scaling sense making is…silence. Often, how people express their opinion on something can get super diluted when they are asked to consider it as part of a big collective exercise. The weird apathy that comes with scaling sense making kills collective sense making, it’s weird to comprehend when the other consequences are herding or group think but in my experience it is the risk that is most likely. I’d recommend trying PSi because we avoid this using small groups.

PSi is based on everything people included here, building on the great work from Polis, Ostrom’s managing the commons etc because we research and practice this work (I’m studying for an MPH with a focus on participatory approaches to public health). It would be great to get peoples feedback so please reach out if you are interested! What have we missed? Where are there cool opportunities to test it out?

Quadratic Voting by no means requires financialization of the decision-making process. Instead, you can give each participant the same amount of artificial “voice credits,” say 99 voice credits for each participant.

For example, in the current version of RxC Voice, the voice credits are artificial, too, limited to the decisions at hand.

There are various ways to distribute the voice credits and account for them, e.g., artificial points, currency, time, etc.

Collective sensemaking can feel easy in small groups where everyone is comfortable and quick to share their thoughts. But it gets increasingly harder as groups scale or if people feel uncomfortable.

One really promising new tool that helps large groups make collective sense is called PSi (People Supported intelligence). PSi has some interesting overlaps to Pol.is and RadicalxChange Voice in that it has a voting component. But it has three features that make it really stand out to me:

  • Vote on audio clips
  • Discuss in small groups
  • Combine groups into bigger ones

Audio allows you to hear a person’s tone which communicates a wealth of information more than text.

Discussing in small groups lets you engage in conversation in a way that preserves social intimacy. Having an audio call instead of text also allows for rapid back-and-forth.

Combining small groups into new, larger ones lets the most well-supported ideas from each group reach a new audience, clash with other ideas, potentially merge into a bigger or better idea, and hopefully make the best rise to the surface to be heard by everyone.

We (@owocki, @Loie) received a demo from the PSi team a couple of weeks ago and are exploring using it for DAOvibes. I would love to have a small group come together to test the tool before we unleash it on a crowd of 200 people. If this interests you, please let me know :smiley: