The Cynefin framework
The Cynefin framework is a model used to describe problems, situations and systems. The model provides a typology of contexts that guides what sort of explanations and/or solutions may apply. Cynefin is a Welsh word, which is commonly translated into English as 'habitat' or 'place', although this fails to convey its full meaning. A more complete translation of the word would be that it conveys the sense that we all have multiple pasts of which we can only be partly aware.The term was chosen by the Welsh scholar Dave Snowden to illustrate the evolutionary nature of complex systems, including their inherent uncertainty. The name is a reminder that all human interactions are strongly influenced and frequently determined by our experiences, both through the direct influence of personal experience, and through collective experience, such as stories or music.
The Cynefin framework draws on research into complex adaptive systems theory, cognitive science, anthropology and narrative patterns, as well as evolutionary psychology. It "explores the relationship between man, experience and context" and proposes new approaches to communication, decision-making, policy-making and knowledge management in complex social environments.
Description of the framework
The Cynefin framework has five domains. The first four domains are:
SIMPLE, in which the relationship between cause and effect is obvious to all, the approach is to Sense - Categorize - Respond and we can apply best practice.
COMPLICATED, in which the relationship between cause and effect requires analysis or some other form of investigation and/or the application of expert knowledge, the approach is to Sense - Analyze - Respond and we can apply good practice.
COMPLEX, in which the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect, but not in advance, the approach is to Probe - Sense - Respond and we can sense emergent practice.
CHAOTIC, in which there is no relationship between cause and effect at a systems level, the approach is to Act - Sense - Respond and we can discover novel practice.
The fifth domain is DISORDER, which is the state of not knowing what type of causality exists, in which state people will revert to their own comfort zone in making a decision. In full use, the Cynefin framework has sub-domains, and the boundary between simple and chaotic is seen as a catastrophic one: complacency leads to failure.
The seminal article on the framework is entitled The new dynamics of strategy: Sense-making in a complex and complicated world by C. F. Kurtz and D. J. Snowden at http://alumni.media.mit.edu/~brooks/storybiz/kurtz.pdf
Dave Snowden introduces Cynefin