Sensemaking has been studied by different disciplines for centuries. It brings together insights drawn from philosophy, sociology and cognitive science. It is therefore often presented as an interdisciplinary research field.
A definition of the term that resonates with us was coined by Research Psychologist Gary A. Klein who studied experts such as firefighters in their natural environment and discovered that theoretical models of decision making are more or less useless under uncertainty. He describes sensemaking as “the ability or attempt to make sense of an ambiguous situation. More exactly, sensemaking is the process of creating situational awareness and understanding in situations of high complexity or uncertainty in order to make decisions.” It is a “motivated, continuous effort to understand connections (which can be among people, places, and events) in order to anticipate their trajectories and act effectively.”
In business, the rise of sensemaking originates predominantly in the work of American organizational theorist Karl E. Weick who focused on the process “from how decisions shape organizations to how meaning drives organizing” (Sensemaking in Organizations, 1995) and the factors that surface as organizations address either uncertain or ambiguous situations. His research focuses attention on the largely cognitive activity of framing experienced situations as meaningful.
In information science the term is most often written as “sense-making”.