Sensemaking at Cortico

Sensemaking Unveiled: Cortico’s Community-Driven Approach to Qualitative Analysis

In a rapidly changing world, trust in social and institutional structures is eroding at an alarming rate. All of us yearn for leaders who listen, respond, and foster connections within their communities. At Cortico, it is our mission to address this growing need for meaningful dialogue and mutual understanding through our unique conversation platform, Fora. At the core of our approach is a step we refer to as Sensemaking, an elemental part of our three-step process, alongside Community Listening and Sharing & Acting.

Read on to explore what sensemaking is, how it distinguishes itself from traditional qualitative analysis, and how AI will play a pivotal role in Cortico’s approach.

What is sensemaking?

Sensemaking is the integrated process of negotiating, interpreting, and applying meaning to conversations. It occurs after conversations have been recorded, uploaded, and transcribed on Fora, ready to be analyzed.

Sensemaking draws on principles of traditional qualitative analysis, yet has unique characteristics and outcomes. Sensemaking is a down-to-earth process.

Why it’s distinctive: Citizen-led analysis

Conversation Library from the City of Durham portal

Sensemaking is about surfacing the big ideas and collective meaning across a multitude of conversations. Conversation participants and facilitators bring their local knowledge and expertise to sensemaking, adding an essential layer of context. These contributions of “citizen-led” analysis pierce the veil of unfamiliarity and mistrust to convey insights and deeper meaning. 

Anyone can be a sensemaker. Sensemaking invites Cortico partners and community members across backgrounds to take part in analyzing conversations. Being a sensemaker isn’t tied to a specific degree or educational background; it’s a fundamental human skill. In our daily lives, we all make sense of our conversations and surroundings.

Sensemaking thrives on collaboration. Groups of people have recorded conversations, groups highlight the conversations, and groups work together to begin the stages of analysis. This collective effort ensures that analysis is inclusive, and grounded in diverse perspectives.

The Sensemaking Process

A commitment to better understanding begins with deep listening. A team of sensemakers—comprised of Cortico partners and community members—immerse themselves into a collection of conversations to highlight distinctive audio clips. This work begins to systematically surface shared themes across conversations. 

After listening and highlighting, the next step involves codebook design and analysis. Through training workshops and collective expertise, Cortico team members and partners craft a comprehensive codebook—a list of similar concepts identified in the conversations, ranging from abstract to specific. The codebook establishes a shared language that represents the expressions from the highlights. This foundational stage of sensemaking empowers us to define, refine, and harmonize codes that summarize the multifaceted layers of these conversations.

 Audio highlight showing tags used by a sensemaker

This codebook drives the final phase of sensemaking: synthesizing and tagging. Taggers attach these codes to the extracted highlights, continuously learning, and then refining the code list to ensure precision and relevance. As themes and patterns crystallize through tagging, collective experiences within the conversations are visually mapped to these thematic categories, revealing profound insights.

Through these sequential steps of listening, analyzing, and synthesizing, Cortico surfaces authentic and nuanced insights from community voices, empowering informed decision-making and action.

A Look Ahead: Human + AI Collaboration

Let’s talk about AI. Sensemaking is a human-led process that harnesses the capabilities of modern technology to decipher conversations, resulting in community-powered, nuanced analysis at scale. We are currently working on integrating AI-assisted tools into this process.

Although this approach combines the strengths of both humans and AI, it will continue to emphasize the human as the primary driver of the process. The human leads the thinking, frames priorities, and refers to AI as support. Our innate ability to empathize and understand nuanced conversations is coupled with AI’s organizational prowess, making sensemaking a human-led, AI-assisted process that unfolds across an entire conversation campaign. We position AI as a co-pilot, a sous-chef to the human intellect. More to come soon.

Sensemaking in Practice

The collaborative process of sensemaking comes to life through Cortico partnerships. In two standout instances, participants from both JA Worldwide and Global We not only embraced sensemaking, but elevated it to new heights.

Cortico’s partnership with JA Worldwide resulted in the groundbreaking project, Youth Voices, in which conversations with 200+ JA alumni from 64 countries were recorded and analyzed. After becoming sensemaking leaders, three young participants embarked on Cortico’s inaugural sensemaking certificate program. They delved into the intricacies of the Fora platform, mastering the art of managing conversation collections, crafting impactful highlights, and constructing codebooks to distill profound meaning.

Meanwhile, at Global We, a dynamic team of 20+ sensemakers from around the world harnessed the power of Fora to meticulously tag nearly 3,000 highlights. This team exemplified the essence of leaning into sensemaking, showcasing their commitment to amplifying underheard voices and making sense of community conversations on an impressive scale.

Post by Global We sensemaker

To become a sensemaker, all that’s required is a strong passion for amplifying underrepresented voices, a willingness to embrace cutting-edge technology platforms, and, most importantly, an open mind. With humans at the helm and technology as a valued ally, Cortico paves the way for inclusive, impactful conversations that empower communities to shape their narratives and drive meaningful change.

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Cortico is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization led by a multidisciplinary team of experts in community engagement, technology and non-profit management. We strive to meld two elements not typically found in one space: technological innovation and community-centered advocacy. We'd love to keep you up to date on what we're doing!