Sensemaking Workshop 2009


There will be a Sensemaking workshop at CHI 2009, April 4-5 (Boston, MA, USA).

Our first goal is to connect various researchers whose work focuses on sensemaking. While we certainly hope to bring together those working within the HCI community, we would like to try to bring in some researchers from other disciplines as well, including Library & Information Science (LIS) (e.g., the research groups with a Brenda Dervin perspective) and Organizational Theory (e.g., the Weick camp) and psychology (e.g., cognitive/problem solving research).

The second goal is to enrich our understanding of sensemaking activities. This includes striving for a shared understanding of the different notions of sensemaking, laying out and structuring the space of varieties of sensemaking (e.g., different levels of social aggregation, static vs. dynamic contexts), articulating their commonalities and differences.

The third goal is to draw from this understanding design implications for better sensemaking tools, systems and aids.

SENSEMAKING: Organizing Information to Understand the World

Making sense of the world is a ubiquitous activity, taking place around the margins of what we know. At work, your boss says, “Can you give a presentation next week on how wireless will affect our business?” Or perhaps, you join a new committee, and wonder “Who are these people? Who is in charge? What is our mission? What are we really going to do?” Maybe you move to a new neighborhood, and you try to make sense of the streets, schools, parks, shopping, and neighbors. Or you say to yourself, “I really need to get an updated cellphone—what has been happening with the current set of features, costs, plans and new gadgets?” Sensemaking can be a core professional task in itself, as for researchers, designers, or intelligence analysts. It arises when we change our place in the world or when the world changes around us. It arises when new problems, opportunities, or tasks present themselves, or when old ones resurface. It involves finding the important structure in a seemingly unstructured situation. It is an activity with cognitive and social dimensions, and has informational, communicational, and computational aspects.

Such an important activity deserves any support it can get from information technologies. Indeed, many major thrusts of HCI can be seen as contributing. Visualization aims to help people see structure in data or information. The seminal early hypertext work of Notecards aimed to help upstream efforts in design, research and intelligence analysis. Group problem solving work in CSCW often involved support for sensemaking activities.

There has been a recent increase of focused interest in sensemaking, spurred by at least two forces. One has been the push of the information explosion from the WWW. Both the Library & Information Science as well as HCI communities have begun to converge on projects trying to help people make sense of the information resources now available. The other force has been a pull from the post-9/11 intelligence community, as the need to make sense of terrorism related intelligence data has become internationally urgent. Both forces have led to a major investment of research dollars into these various communities. And both of these forces make a CHI sensemaking workshop particularly timely.

We hope to include research in areas such as:

• how do people make sense of complex sets of information? (behavior studies and tool use)

• issues of representation creation, evolution and use

• implicit/explicit aspects of sensemaking

• group sensemaking: including different levels of social aggregation, from individual, to group, to large social contexts

• both static and evolving problem environments

• how sensemaking fits into other knowledge work (information gathering, decision making)

• the ways in which sensemaking is evident in coordination work that happens between groups of people (e.g., during shift changeovers when one group has to teach the incoming group what's going on and where to pick up the work of the next phase)


As the intent of the workshop is to bring together an already active body of researchers with diverse perspectives on the topic. We will spend the morning developing a shared understanding and vocabulary, getting an overview of each other's understanding of the topic, and identifying key issues to pursue in depth. The remainder of the time will then be devoted to in-depth discussions of those key issues, leading up to an identification of design implications, and planning workshop outputs.

To encourage more in-depth and interactive discussion, participation will be limited to no more than 15 participants.

Short presentations will be alternated with brief discussion periods. All participants are expected to present and encouraged to prepare joint presentations with other participants.

Although exact topics for discussion will be determined by the participants' interests and discussion, the following topic areas are suggested by the organizers:

• Styles and different approaches of sensemaking

· Models of sensemaking behaviors

• Architecture and processes of sensemaking

• Sensemaking aids

· How do groups of people working together

make sense?

· Identifying application domains and uses


If you'd like to participate, please send us an email with your intent and a short description of what you'd like to present at the workshop. Address that message to:

Position papers will be due to by October 31, 2008.

[NOTE: Changed from Oct 23. DMR, Oct 20, 2008]

Typically, workshop papers run 3 - 5 pages and follow the CHI Archive paper format. Notification of selection to the workshop will be by November 30, 2008.

All position papers will be reviewed and accepted submissions will appear in the workshop proceedings. The possibility of a journal special issue based on expanded and revised versions of the submissions will be explored following the workshop. Workshop participants must register for at least one day of the CHI conference as well as the workshop.


Daniel M. Russell

Google, Inc.

1600 Amphitheatre Parkway

Mountain View, CA 04043

George Furnas

School of Information

University of Michigan

Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1107

Mark Stefik


3333 Coyote Hill Rd.

Palo Alto, CA 94303

Stuart Card


3333 Coyote Hill Rd.

Palo Alto, CA 94303

Peter Pirolli


3333 Coyote Hill Rd.

Palo Alto, CA 9430

Last edit: October 19, 2008