‘The basic idea of sensemaking is that reality is an ongoing accomplishment that emerges from efforts to create order, and make retrospective sense of what occurs’ (Weick, 1995). The concept of sensemaking is related to the philosophical stream of social-constructionism. This movement views the construction of reality rather as an outcome of social interaction than an objective reality. Reality is seen as a product that is created via social interactive processes between individuals, own images, experiences and culture (Van de Ven and Poole, 2005). The construction of one’s own reality thus differs among individuals, dependent of the interactions one engages in. Grint (2005) advances the perspective of reality as that it ‘is constructed through language and, in turn, since language is a social phenomenon, the account of reality which prevails is often a temporary phenomenon’. Thus, communication plays an important role in the meaning construction of intersubjective realities but also creates opportunity for future reconstruction. One’s socially constructed reality directs future behavior. Behavioral acts are a reflection of how people construct meaning of particular events and in turn, these behavioural acts are themselves antecedents of new meaning constructions (Weick, 1995). For example, one’s self identity and collective identity are socially constructed perceptions of reality that are used as mirrors to make sense of new information, which affect interpretation and in the end lead to a certain choice of behavior. However, at the same time they are also altered during change, which suggests that not only existing identity images influence meaning ascription and future behavior, but also the ones yet to be constructed (Gioia and Thomas, 1996).
2.2.1. Characteristics of sensemaking
Weick (1979, 1988, 1993, 1995, 2005) has made a great contribution to the literature of sensemaking by theorizing how people organize the unpredictable world of raw, meaningless data. His perspective on sensemaking holds similar ideas as to how the social-constructionism movement views the creation of reality. The sensemaking process can be seen as an iterative course of acts and summarized as:
‘Once people begin to act (enactment), they generate tangible outcomes (cues), in some context (social), and this helps them discover (retrospect) what is occurring (ongoing), what needs to be explained (plausibility) and what should be done next (identity enhancement)’ (Weick, 1995).
In sum, Weick (1995) provides an overview of seven reoccurring features by which the concept of sensemaking in organizations can be distinguished from other explanatory concepts and which can guide future research:
‘ Sensemaking is rooted in identity construction. People determine which self is most applicable in a particular situation while constructing the event (Weick, 1995) and during this process they are influenced by the social context and the idea people have of how others see them.
‘ Sensemaking is retrospective. As Schultz (1967, in Weick, 1995) sensibly noticed, the only way for people to know how they are acting is by reflection after they have acted. Both past experiences and current experiences have an influence on the meaning giving process during a particular event (Choo, 1996; Weick, 1995).
‘ The third component refers to the ‘making’ part of sensemaking and constitutes the enactment of sensible environments. People cannot be separated from the environment they are part of, as these environments are themselves constructed during people’s sensemaking processes (Weick, 1995).
‘ Sensemaking is a social activity. Organizations are multi-actor environments in which shared meanings are created during social interaction, communication and language (Weick, 1995).
‘ Sensemaking as a continuous process without a clear beginning or end (Weick, 1995). As people act in a particular way, they make sense of this action retrospectively, thereby influencing their choice of future behavioural acts.
‘ Sensemaking involves extracted cues. Cues are recognizable signals or structures to which people give a broader meaning of an event (Weick, 1995). The cues can either provide guidance in ambiguous situation or cause rigidity if they confirm previous constructed realities.
‘ Sensemaking rather deals with social plausibility and subjective credibility than accuracy. As cited by Starbuck and Milliken (1988, in Weick, 1995): ‘filtered information is less accurate but, if the filter is effective, more understandable’. Elements that are helpful to make ambiguous situations more understandable are images, symbol analogy and tales, as they can function as a template of explanation (Weick, 1995).
As mentioned before, by organizing the cues people extract from their surroundings, it becomes possible to make sense of them and in turn to project that sense back into their surroundings to regulate those surroundings (Weick, et al., 2005). Weick (1979) conceptualized the process of sensemaking in a framework called ‘the enactment theory’. The outcome of the process is an established environment (Weick 1988). The enactment model includes four sequential phases: ‘ecological change’, ‘enactment’, ‘selection’ and ‘retention’ (see figure 1).
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