Linear construction of Cynefin

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Construction of the Cynefin™ framework from first principles, showing what we mean when we say that this is a contextualisation not a categorization framework.


Identify the focal issue or prompting question for the Linear Cynefin(TM) activity Prepare either physical or virtual workspaces with blank canvasses and sufficient sticky notes.


Step 1: Frame the challenge / question
  • Input: do we need to be more specific about focus?
  • Or can it be open-ended, working for activities/ issues/ challenges/ decision points
  • Groups may struggle with language: is it the outcome that is predictable EFFECT of the activity or the OUTCOME that is predictable or unpredictable?
  • See Prompting Questions for more
Step 2: Generate material
  • Frame the question/challenge/prompt to the group (the focus of the Linear process)
  • Ask each team to list all activities/ issues/ challenges/decision points related to the question at hand (one per sticky)
  • Recommended to allow individual reflection and stickie generation before group discussion
  • One idea or activity per hexie
  • Hexies should contain just enough information that others will understand
Step 3: Linear placement
  • The group work to place items on a linear continuum from ‘Predictable’ to ‘Unpredictable’
  • First, choose exemplars to define the end points of the line i.e the most and least predictable items
  • Then place all other items in relation to the end points and each other, along the predictable/unpredictable continuum. each item to the right is more predictable, to the left less predictable.
  • More is more – a large number of hexies is fine. De-duplicate only when items are truly the same.
  • Don’t put two different items in the exact same place on the line – try to differentiate them slightly (not cluster or build columns)
Step 4: Place boundary(?) lines

Groups place boundary lines to divide their continuum up based on the items:

  • Line 1 – separates “should be able to predict” from “can't predict” where does it go from predictable to not predictable?
  • Line 2 - on the Unpredictable side: where does it go from unpredictable but with discernable patterns (i.e. some self-organisation or constraints are evident) to no pattern, random and unstable?
  • Line 3 - on the Predictable side: where does it go from “predictability that requires expertise to see” to “predictability that most people can understand”?
  • Avoid using the domain names (chaotic, complex, clear) to describe the line placements when giving instructions. Avoid using the word ‘volatile’ to describe the far left of the line.
  • The central boundary (dividing mostly predictable from mostly unpredictable) can widen to represent a zone of confusion that contains multiple items.
Step 5: Transform into Cynefin™ framework
  • The line is then pulled together to form the Cynefin™ framework and boundary conditions are defined

Do's and Don'ts

  • Consensus is not the priority here - rather, sense-making through conversation is. Encourage groups to unpack the items and build a shared understanding of them, not forcing agreement.
  • Note that the dividing lines really should not end up dividing the line into even areas – this is contextualistion not categorisation, and the world is not symmetrical.

In a virtual environment

The method has been conducted in virtual settings with success over a range of platforms.


Link to other articles on this wiki if they are relevant.


Specific articles can be referenced here

Blog posts

Link with commentary


Link to case articles here or third party material