From common insight to improved collaboration

Collaboration on complex (inter)organizational and societal issues takes place in ever more complex and interconnected networks of collaborative communities. Stakeholders involved need to reflect upon their collaboration continuously in order to improve it. This helps produce better shared insights into what binds the participants and what are their collaborative issues, priorities, and next actions. Such collaborative sensemaking means getting stakeholders to engage in a participatory process to achieve a common understanding of their collaboration. Besides discovering actionable common ground, such a process also supports stakeholders in getting an overview of the diversity in their interests and perspectives, and how these can used to enrich rather than disrupt their common ground. Collaborative sensemaking therefore helps participants to understand and strengthen their collaboration ecosystem: (1) what are the collaborative relations and interactions, what is their collaborative context, which opportunities are there for improving the collaboration, and how to increase the support base to reach collective impact.

The CommunitySensor methodology for participatory community network mapping

To let stakeholders' make better sense of their complex collaboration ecosystems, CommunitySense has been developing a methodology - grounded in both extensive research and years of practical experience - for the participatory mapping of collaborative community networks: CommunitySensorTM. This methodology helps stakeholders map the collaboration network of their own communities by visualizing, connecting and reflecting upon the many fragments of their collaboration. For example, what are the themes and topics to work on, which interactions and workflows take place, who are the organizations and target groups involved and what roles do they play, what are the key types of content used, what data sources and other resources are used, what are the success factors, and what are the issues at play?

The growing visual knowledge base is used in the collaborative sensemaking process by showing and discussing relevant perspectives on the collaborative connections. Properly chosen perspectives act as customized discussion agendas relevant to particular stakeholer goals and needs. In a series of sensemaking meetings, those agendas are then discussed to produce actionable issues, priorities, and next actions. In preparation of those meetings, an analysis of emerging collaboration patterns may also used to further enrich the sessions, so that they can be conducted more effectively and efficiently. This structured approach of focused and meaningfully interconnected sensemaking sessions helps stakeholders together build a solid foundation for collaboration. Participants actively being engaged in this process helps them to reach better understanding of their partners needs and interests; getting to common priorities with support; and jointly define actions to further develop their collaboration.

CommunitySensor lifecycle

The methodology involves iteratively going through the following steps of the community network development lifecycle:

  • Community network mapping: together with stakeholders describing an meaningful part of their collaboration ecosystem and creating the maps and perspectives needed for effective sensemaking. The process is kickstarted by creating a seed map of a typical, urgent collaboration problem. In future iterations, this seed map can then be built upon.
  • Community network sensemaking: together with stakeholders interpreting the collaboration maps in a series of sensemaking sessions (e.g. in workshop format). While further detailing the maps and their perspectives, this process results in a better insight into the issues, priorities, and next actions of the collaborative community.
  • Community network building: based on the obtained insights, concrete interventions are carried out in the community network. Typically, the client already has an organizational or community building methodology in place. CommunitySensor does not replace this methodology but augments and helps catalyze it through wise use of the visual knowledge base being developed.
  • Community network evaluation: monitoring and evaluating the results of the interventions and adding relevant content to the knowledge base. This content may include new elements and connections, enriching their descriptions, and adding qualitative (e.g. stories) and quantitative indicators.

Kumu visualization features

For creating, sharing, and analyzing the maps, CommunitySensor makes use of the online network visualization tool Kumu. Powerful features of this tool for collaborative sensemaking purposes include:

  • Creating interactive maps, allowing for on the fly exploration and discovery, essential for sensemaking purposes.
  • Enabling different views on the maps, best reflecting different stakeholder needs and interests.
  • Elegant layout and multimedia content, such as embedded images and videos to make the maps look appealing and useful for storytelling and communication purposes.
  • Social network analysis options, for example, to determine what the hubs of connections and activity are.
  • Providing a web-based environment, so that parts of maps and views – each with their own permalink – can be shared with and integrated in the information systems and workflows of stakeholders. This is important to further strengthen the support base and collective impact of the community network.

Collaborative sensemaking with Kumu

  • Community network storytelling: telling and connecting rich, interactive community network stories.
  • Contextualizing collaboration fragments: seeing both the community network forest and the trees. Kumu allows for showing the bird's eye view of the complete collaboration ecosystem; zooming in on the context of specific collaboration fragments; and visualizing how those fragments are related. This is a prerequisite for constructive collaborative sensemaking.
  • Prioritizing issues in context: in the sensemaking sessions, relevant views on the collaboration ecosystem are interpreted by stakeholders to work towards joint issues. priorities, and next actions, clearly visualized by Kumu so that the common ground becomes increasingly firm, actionable and owned by the community.
  • Accountability & ownership: using selected views the maps and various other Kumu reporting functionalities, the (intermediate) outcomes of the sensemaking work can be shared with sponsors and the wider community, thus promoting accountability and ownership both the results and the process.

Applying CommunitySensor in your case

The CommunitySensor methodology supported by the Kumu tool is a powerful combination that can help you strengthen the collaboration in your community network. CommunitySense has successfully applied this combination in many different projects. As each case is unique in needs, characteristics and opportunities for improvement, so is the mix and amount of consultancy services we provide.  In general, however, we recommend to start with the following project outline. This gives you a concrete introduction into the methodology and tool and provides you with immediate, concrete results, while not committing you to long-term commitments from the start.

  1. Defining the scope of the community network development
    • Products: definition of commuity mapping language, tools, and processes
    • Sources: project team, project documentation
  2. Collaboration quickscan
    • Products: visual knowledge base, seed map
    • Sources: project team, core commuity members, project documentation, interviews & surveys
  3. Focused sensemaking sessions
    • Products: shared issues, priorities and next actions / common action perspective with support
    • Sources: relevant perspectives on knowledge base, shared sensemaking sessions with selected stakeholders
  4. Embedding in existing business processes and systems (optional)
    • Products: trainings, documentation, embedding in primary / management / communication processes and systems
    • Sources: relevant perspectives on / indicators from knowledge base, stakeholder organizations

Contact CommunitySense to see how we (if needed assisted by our business partners) may help you implement this approach into a customized methodology that best helps you strengthen your community network collaboration on the way to more collective impact.


The CommunitySensor methodology has been developed by Aldo de Moor. It is based on a unique, solid community informatics academic research foundation combined with many years of business experience.

See the following publications for an introduction into the scientific grounding of the methodology. A full list of publications can be found here.