This is an Eval Central archive copy, find the original at cense.ca.
Attractor mapping is a method we’ve written about before. It’s a visual means of tracking where we pay attention and where energy is created, sustained and organized.
Energy is represented through attention, action, activity, and interactions. Energy is dissipative and it’s dynamic. This means that we can’t ‘set and forget’ our exploration of attractors. What we learn about where energy is today is likely to change in the near future.
How do we practically use attractors?
Mapping is the key starting point. Mapping, as we’ve described elsewhere, involves paying attention to where patterns of activity are generated. These patterns may be beneficial, problematic, or neutral relative to our goals and needs.
Once the patterns have been identified, it’s important to engage in a sensemaking process to determine what we see and what we imagine might be happening. Sensemaking is a social process that involves looking at data, interrogating it (asking questions about its function, fit, completeness, and patterns), and then devising meaning from it. Ask: what is the significance of what it is that we see? How does what we see fit with what we know and what does it challenge?
Sensemaking is about learning-in-action and making sense of complexity.
Sensemaking, Evaluation and Attractors
With attractors, we are looking at new emergent patterns so it may not be obvious. Consider the example of the early days of the global Pokemon Go game that involved people taking their phones to parks and public squares to play with augmented reality actors. To the untrained eye, this looked bizarre (see the picture above). Yet, when we watch the patterns we see they are shaped by the game, but more importantly, it brings people literally together in the real world. Some of the emergent patterns that came from this were friendships, collaborations (around the game), and a burgeoning community of Pokemon Go players.
The next step is to take the insights we generate from our sensemaking process to align what we learn with what we seek to do. This is connecting strategy and data together. This means clarifying your intent and the desired impactthat your organization seeks.
This is where evaluation comes in. Evaluation can serve as a means to help clarify the strategic intent and take advantage of attractors. Evaluation links intent and action together. This is what the heart of a strategy is all about: aligning the resources, intentions, and actions together to produce an outcome.
Evaluation looks at what is happening through the lenses of strategy and data. It connects the two together.
Putting it into Practice
The lessons for attractors are:
- Start with a system. A system is a set of boundaries that contain interactions. These boundaries might be geography, time, markets, populations, contexts or something that helps define the situation you’re looking at. If you look at a system and feel lost, you probably have boundaries that are too broad (try narrowing them, including more constraints). If you constantly are looking outside the system for explanations, you might want to broaden your constraints.
- Pay attention. Build observation skills to start looking within a system. What’s happening? Use everything from observation to quantitative data points (e.g., customer numbers, counts, requests, etc..) to stories and more.
- Sense make Come together with those who might have different perspectives on your team or beyond to help make meaning from what you see. What patterns did you expect? What surprises you? What’s unknown? What do you need more data on?
- Strategize Develop a plan that fits the context. In highly dynamic situations this might mean developing a shorter-term plan. Consider what forces are influencing the attractors and amplifying their effects or whether or not you wish to avoid or dampen those effects if they are not beneficial.
- Design Take the steps to design an approach, service, product, policy or overall organization plan to meet these needs. Using the steps in the Design Helix you can gather information and bring all of what you’re seeing together to shape things and create impact.
Repeat these often.
That’s bringing attractors to life in practice.
Do you want or need help in putting this into practice? Would some coaching or strategic advice help you out? If so, reach out and let’s chat over a coffee or tea about how we can help you.