Co-creating places start with collecting stories, sensemaking

A community’s health is often measured by explicit outcomes (e.g. income, jobs, crime) over intrinsic outcomes (e.g. belonging, compassion, leadership), resulting in a dominance of investment in those explicit outcomes. This one-sided investment severely inhibits meaningful growth in intrinsic outcomes, inhibiting extrinsic outcomes as well.

The problem is, how does one even begin to measure intrinsic outcomes, much less invest in them? Perhaps…

  • It’s about shifting strategic questions from the notion of “what should we do?”, to “who are we becoming as a people?”;
  • It’s about moving from designing for what machines are good at, to what the human operating system is good at;
  • It’s about beginning to understand that the most powerful problem-solving systems are people engaged in authentic participation.

In other words, much of this starts with sincerely listening to a critical mass of the people, the stakeholders in a community. Here’s one such approach that is on the rise, in summary:

  1. Stories are collected from the people in the community.
  2. The people make sense of what the collective stories are trying to say.
  3. The people self organize based on aligned interests.
  4. The people co-create solutions.
  5. The people co-invest in those solutions, and repeat the cycle.

This is what is known as a system of emergence, a higher order of complexity arising out of chaos through simple interactions. A co-creation operating system. How would this actually work in an actual community?

  1. Stories. A committed team collects stories from the people in the community using what is known as a sensemaking program. Sensemaking is defined as “the process by which people give meaning to their collective experiences”. See the video above to see sensemaking in action.
  2. Sensemaking. People use the sensemaking results, displayed in maps, trends and patterns (see the 11:18 mark of this video), to better understand (make sense of) themselves and each other as a community.
  3. Self organizing. People self organize based on aligned interests with others through support groups, social networks and new/existing organizations. New solutions and leaders emerge organically.
  4. Co-creation. The members of those newly populated, educated, energized entities design, prototype, co-create solutions.
  5. Co-investment. The entity members utilize a co-investment and co-ownership program to execute, govern and own those solutions. Learn more about the rise of co-ownership, fractional ownership programs here.

These co-creation and sensemaking tools are currently being piloted from community development projects to a Montessori high school to climate change. If you’re interested in learning more about this co-creation operating system, please join a group on LinkedIn (newly formed), Facebook or send a note to Neil at

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