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Toolkit:Systems Thinking for Safety/Cynefin

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Description

The Cynefin framework provides a typology of contexts that guides what sort of explanations or solutions might apply. It draws on research into complex adaptive systems theory, cognitive science, anthropology, and narrative patterns, as well as evolutionary psychology, to describe problems, situations, and systems.

The Cynefin framework has five domains. The first four domains are:

  • Obvious - the relationship between cause and effect is obvious to all, the approach is to Sense - Categorise - Respond and we can apply best practice. (This replaces the previously used terminology Simple from early 2014.)
  • Complicated - the relationship between cause and effect requires analysis or some other form of investigation and/or the application of expert knowledge, the approach is to Sense - Analyze - Respond and we can apply good practice.
  • Complex - the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect, but not in advance, the approach is to Probe - Sense - Respond and we can sense emergent practice.
  • Chaotic - there is no relationship between cause and effect at systems level, the approach is to Act - Sense - Respond and we can discover novel practice.

The fifth domain is Disorder, which is the state of not knowing what type of causality exists, in which state people will revert to their own comfort zone in making a decision. In full use, the Cynefin framework has sub-domains, and the boundary between obvious and chaotic is seen as a catastrophic one: complacency leads to failure.

The various domains of the Cynefin model David Snowden CC BY-SA 3.0

See also: Video explanation of Cynefin by Dave Snowden

Further reading