Dave Snowden


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My final day in Ottawa was occupied with two open meetings to discuss the novel forms of research represented by SenseMaker® and anthro-complexity in general. Discussions ranged through national research agendas, indigenous issues, global warming, social work and many others. It is gratifying to see how ideas, that were considered highly controversial only a couple of years ago, now receive a willing reception. In particular I didn’t pull any punches about outcome based approaches and the tyranny of measurement. In response to several of the question/discussions I found myself challenging the granularity of the intervention or subject matter. Getting the granularity right is key to complexity and in general people go for large lumps of aggregate rather than smaller pebbles. Two discussions in particular are worthy of note:

  1. A question was raised as to the assimilation and understanding of refugee needs. Canada has been better than most in taking in people from Syria, but with the best will in the world there are issues on integration. The idea we came up with was to gather narratives of each refugee group of the value of the society they had some from based on fragmented recall rather than structured interviews. Then go to the target areas for refugee assimilation and gather the same stories about people’s history, their immigrant ancestry. Both systems to use a cultural anthropology signifier set. Then we can look for matches in the day stories of people’s past before allocating people. The aim to ensure a better match of culture and experience, as well as triggering an empathetic response of this could have been my grandparent settling here for the first time.
  2. The second was more problematic, looking at the major existential issues of climate change.   I argued, as I have done before, that we have to change the disposition state of people’s relationship with their land before top down initiatives will work.   With extreme weather events this becomes easier,   But we also came up with the idea of pairing first nation young adults with those from the dominant culture to mutually explore and record the nature of that relationship and its future.   I’m going to do some more thinking about that.  My idea was not to privilege one culture over another, but find a sustainable synthesis with wider appeal that is normal in that field.

Both work with small anecdotes and observations, seeking to find novel solutions through combination and recombination. Reduce the granularity and new solutions become possible.