Resource Type

Narrative Reporting

These resources analyze large amounts of data to describe all the elements in the system.

Systems Questions


What are the events, activities, actions, behaviors, and forces that affect the system, and how can we influence them?

Patterns and Structure

What are the patterns of behavior, structures, and archetypes in the system, and how can we influence them?

Grantmaking Stages

Develop grantmaking strategy

Resources in this category can help you understand the system, identify outcomes and determine grantmaking interventions.

Shape and monitor grants

Resources in this category can help you as you implement and refine your grantmaking strategy. Some of the more participatory resources in this category overlap with other grantmaking stages.

Assess impact and learn

Resources in this category can help you assess impact and learn. Since learning is often an iterative and emergent process in systems grantmaking, these resources may overlap with other grantmaking stages.


Highly participatory


An expert with specialized knowledge or technology


1-5 months

What's its purpose in systems grantmaking?

To understand initial conditions and influencers of complex cultural systems and affect a system by reinforcing or discouraging emergent behavior patterns. Also, to enable people to understand their own environment and leverage peer-to-peer knowledge flow and innovation.

What is it?

A narrative reporting resource for large-scale data collection in which people make meaning of their own stories, images, and/or recordings as they relate to a particular issue or event. It identifies underlying attitudes and patterns of behavior across this self-signified data. It requires the use of proprietary software developed and owned by Cognitive Edge.

When is it useful?

  • When there are deep rooted patterns that aren’t surfaced through collective processes;
  • Where values or concepts are seen differently by grantees, implementers and funders;
  • When stakeholders believe the interpretation of data may be biased;
  • Where issues or problems are affected by cultural norms and perspectives;
  • When systems are bound by community-level issues or by geography; and
  • When it would be beneficial to collect high volumes of qualitative material and analyze it through quantitative techniques.

What are tips and cautions for systems grantmakers and the social sector?

  • Its ability to process large amounts of data, diminish intermediary interpretation bias, and account for variation among individuals is unique and results in rich data about a system.
  • Experts and collectors need to be trained to allow storytellers to signify their experiences in their own way, even if it is contrary to the “experts” beliefs.
  • In the international development context, it can be challenging to find capacity in-country to manage a SenseMaker® project. Pairing local researchers with outsider experts has helped grantmakers to build this capacity. 
  • Support for smartphone and tablet apps makes the field capture easier and less costly. 


Using SenseMaker® to Understand Girls’ Lives: Lessons Learnt From Girl Hub

By Cognitive Edge, 2014

Flourishing Community Index

By Cordaid, 2015

The Story of SenseMaker® in UNDP Eastern Europe and CIS

By Tony Quinlan
Cognitive Edge, 2015


Dave Snowden

Founder & Chief Scientific Officer, Cognitive Edge

Tony Quinlan

Chief Storyteller, Narrate