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Guidelines | June 1, 2022


Resources & Case Studies

SenseMaker is a complexity-aware, narrative-based method that can be used to conduct assessments, monitoring, evaluations (whether baseline, midterm, or final), and research studies. SenseMaker is based on narratives that respondents share and to which they give additional meaning. It recognizes that personal narratives—short accounts of people’s experiences—allow better insights that can help contextualize knowledge; and when individuals reflect on these personal experiences, it generates additional layers of information.

Sensemaker Guidance

The Learning Power of Listening: A Practical Guide for Using Sensemaker

The Learning Power of Listening guide is intended for those who wish to coordinate, participate in, or support the use of SenseMaker; and can be used for personal reference or for training others involved in the SenseMaker process. The experiences on which it is based focus on development programs and come from organizations and programs that have used SenseMaker over the last decade.

View Sensemaker Guide

What Is Sensemaker and How Does it Work in the Field

This video provides a short introduction to the SenseMaker method and shows it in action. Viewers can observe the data collection process, including the collection of the personal narratives and how the different SenseMaker-specific tools are used to support respondents’ reflection of their experience to provide additional layers of information. It also shows how the collective interpretation of findings with stakeholders is facilitated to ensure that findings led to action.

Sensemaker Case Studies

Ethiopia Community Conversations Assessment: Report and Podcast

The Development Food Security Activity (DFSA) program in Ethiopia (2016-2021) applied the Community Conversations (CC) approach, through the establishment of CC groups (CCGs) who facilitated conversations to identify, prioritize and address community issues, focused on influencing behavior change for promoting gender equity and equality, and youth development. These positive behaviors and social norms were considered foundational to achieving and sustaining the program purposes and goal. To evaluate the effectiveness of the approach, the program conducted a midterm and endline SenseMaker-based assessment to understand its contribution to behavior change for achieving and sustaining food security and nutrition, economic well-being, and resilience.

Niger Gender Analysis: Report & Podcast

CRS Niger and its partners are currently implementing the Girma program, a five-year multisectoral program funded by USAID/BHA to improve and sustain food and nutrition security with gender responsive and transformative approaches in 600 communities in Zinder, Niger. Girma conducted a gender analysis to address evidence gaps directly relevant to the program’s theory of change to refine its implementation strategies and approaches for ensuring the project effectiveness in promoting gender equity and equality.

Ecuador Refugee Protection and Integration: Report and Podcast

Between 2009 and 2017, CRS supported Colombian refugees and Venezuelan migrants, as well as vulnerable Ecuadorians, to become self-reliant and protect their rights to live in dignity. In 2017, CRS conducted a SenseMaker-based study to evaluate the effectiveness of the program, and to identify promising practices to support migrant and refugee populations, not just in the immediate humanitarian assistance, but also in the longer term for both refugees and host communities.

DRC Resilience Assessment: Report and Podcast

The Budikadidi project, funded by the USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA), works to achieve sustained nutrition, food security and economic wellbeing outcomes for at least 263,900 participants in three rural health zones in the Kasai Oriental province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. During the program’s first year, a resilience assessment was conducted to validate and refine the program theory of change and, where necessary, adjust the program strategy for building resilience.

Latin America Price Risk Management (PRM) for Coffee Producer Organizations: Report and Podcast

Oikocredit, Fair Trade USA and CRS implemented a three-year project to support smallholder coffee farmers, organized in 22 leading coffee producer organizations (CPOs) in Latin America, to strengthen their price risk management (PRM) competencies to mitigate the effects of price volatility in their trading operations. SenseMaker was used as part of its MEAL toolkit to assess managerial team and board members’ PRM competencies, and to evaluate the project contextual assumption on the governance of participating CPOs.

Listen to Podcast with Sarah Page and Jorge Madrigal, Latin America in:

Central America SMART Skills Assessment: Podcasts

The Water Smart Agriculture (WSA) project for Mesoamerica was a six-year project (2015-2021) funded by the Howard G Buffett Foundation and implemented in cooperation with a broad network of local, territorial and national partners. It focused on increasing productivity through the restauration of soil and water resources and was designed to get to scale, reaching 100,000 plus farmers. SenseMaker was used as the core method to evaluate natural resource management (NRM) and innovation competencies at different levels of its delivery model (extensionists, promoters and farmers) and along its innovation and scaling processes; as well as the its development outcomes.

Listen to Smart Skills Assessment Podcast in:


Using SenseMaker: Proven Research Ethnography Case Studies

Catholic Relief Services [CRS] started piloting SenseMaker® in 2015, and has a wealth of knowledge and experience in the use of the method. Some early experience includes using SenseMaker to map pathways to prosperity in Nicaragua and linking to markets in Colombia, to hear the stories of people’s resilience to multiple shocks and stressors in Central America, East Africa, DRC, and Southeast Asia, and evaluating the experiences of Colombian refugees and Venezuelan migrants that had gone to Ecuador. Other experiences include formative research to refine the gender equity and equality promotion strategy for a large food security project in Niger. The assessment of the performance of a community conversations approach implemented in Ethiopia to promote behavior change. Assessing and monitoring extension agents, field agents and farmers’ competencies for the adaptive management of capacity building activities in Malawi, Central America, and Ethiopia. Formative research on nutrition-sensitive agriculture in Guatemala, and many others. To learn more about this work, read the blog published by The Cynefin Company, an action research and development hub working at the limits of applied complexity science. Read the Cynefin Centre blog article here.

Training Videos

This set of five videos were developed to provide specialized training for data collectors that CRS calls “facilitators” given the important role they play in supporting respondents to share and document their narratives, reflect on their experiences, and document their responses. The first video introduces the method, provides general recommendations for facilitating the data collection process, and provides a detailed protocol to collect and document the narratives. The other four videos explain, step-by-step, the facilitation process to support respondents to reflect on their experience using each of the SenseMaker-specific tools: sliders, sliders with stones, stones and triads.

Available in: English, Spanish, and French