Co-Creating Poverty Alleviation? Collective Sensemaking in Multi-Sector Groups



Bringing together multi-sectoral multi-cultural groups to collaboratively create novel solutions is increasingly becoming an applied mode of organizing to solve complex social challenges such as poverty alleviation. Collective sensemaking is an essential part of this process. Yet how collective sensemaking under such conditions might work, remains a blind spot in sensemaking inquiry. Our ethnographic study of sensemaking in a diverse group consisting of three national offices of a large non-governmental organization, four business enterprises, a consultancy and academics, purposefully looking to co-create business for poverty alleviation, offers a number of critical contributions to sensemaking theory. First we contribute to temporal aspects of sensemaking theory by showing how structural features can stifle collective sensemaking, slowing the pace of change and/or preventing the emergence of coherent understandings. Our second contribution challenges the clear role structure view promoted by previous sensemaking research. We show a flexible role structure may be necessary for diverse groups dealing with highly complex future-oriented fuzzy goals. We identify three enabling practices with which the structural stiflers for collective sensemaking can be surpassed: believing in others’ knowledge, building on common identities and situational engagement. Finally, we develop a grounded model of collective sensemaking, supporting the view that instead of having to reach fully shared understandings, an adequate coherent understanding is sufficient for collective action.