Hexagon Sensemaking Canvas

A sensemaking tool to map and balance inward and outward perspectives

The Hexagon Sensemaking Canvas (HSC) is a mapping and evaluation tool to evaluate outward and inward perspectives while make sense of situations, events, organisations, contexts, cultures, environmental changes from narratives. The Hexagon Sensemaking Canvas is used in PNI workshops, applications and project planning activities to gain insight, monitor trends, empower people, make decisions, evaluate plans/policies, map knowledge and drive transformations.

The HSC – shown on the left and described in detail below – has seven spaces, one central hexagon and 6 spaces around it that together form a bigger hexagon. Each space stands for aspects of a system (in focus). The canvas is obtained by superimposing the two basic triangles of aspects of natural and organisational systems. The superposition creates a 7th central index domain for soul & identities aspects.

The Hexagon Sensemaking Canvas features three aspects that have an outward focus: order, complexity and chaos. These are found in natural systems and that are well known from Stuart Kaufmann’s work. It also features three aspects with an inward perspective: control, cooperation and autonomy. This triad was – to our knowledge – first developed and extensively described by Robert Keidel in this work on the triangular nature of organisation.

One can easily distinguish between inward and outside perspectives by examining who says what about what. If this is we/us, this or here the statement is about something internal, self, the organisation, etc. and the perspective is inward. If it is about others, them, that or there it is outward focussed even when it is about another group or process or event or … within the same organisation.

Canvas description

Practical guidance on the use of aspect domains
Index aspects

The index of the Hexagon Sensemaking Canvas is the most intricate part. First of all it holds the soul and identities information of the system in focus:

  • Identities – Any person, system or organisation is recognized by identities others assign to it. So identities have an outward focus.
  • Soul – The soul of a system is what is wants or aspires to be. The soul contains for example its values; the basis for decisions. So the soul is basically inward focussed.

It furthermore stores (or provides) sensing, types, habits, creativity, context and decisions to the other 6 aspect domains.

Order aspects

Something is said to be ordered when there is repetition, when there is sequence, when things can be categorized. Order is an assigned property of something external.

Control aspects

Something has control aspects with things can be steered or directed through an hierarchical relation, when it is predictable what precise effect an action will have.

Cooperation aspects

Aspects are cooperative when there has been a conscious choice to relate to and interact with the other (subject or object).

Complex aspects

Aspects are complex when they are patterned and cannot be steered or controlled directly. They “are”, exist outside of the observer or decision maker and one can try to influence, but one has no power over them.

Autonomy aspects

Autonomy aspects related to being independent from others or other things. They relate to being alone, being able to make ones own choices.

Chaos aspects

Something,has chaotic aspects when when things – however hard you look at them, seem unrelated. Wikipedia says:

Chaos may refer to any state of confusion or disorder, it may also refer to lawlessness or anarchy.

Other varieties of the Hexagon Sensemaking Canvas

Napkin, nested and processing version

Napkin form

The HSC in its simplest form. Easy to draw on a napkin or to create with tape on a table surface. The ideal form for face2face discussions and in StoryWork sessions.

Nested form

A nested HSC in its simplest form. Here an inward nest is shown, useful for f.e. making sense of a system in its environment. One can also have outward replica’s producing fractal like configurations.

Processing form

The canvas can be used in processing mode where (narrative) events start at the bottom and are evaluated for aspects of control or autonomy, first and are next processed via the left or right route, thereby interacting with the soul and identities in the index domain.

The orientation of the Hexagon Sensemaking Canvas

Influences from biology, the Bible and the Native Medicine Wheel.

The HSC is oriented with its chaos space to the south, the control/order side to the west, the autonomy/complex side to the east and cooperation/action to the north. The reason is that this orientation first of all orients perception towards the primordial soup that many biologists believe preceded life and that is also quite Biblical:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Here we read that the earth’s status was formless (chaotically arranged) and empty (like a diluted gas). Hence it is logical to oriented the HSC’s chaos space to the south, facing the earth below our feet.

The reason to put autonomy/complex to the east is that this orients the HSC in the same way as the Native Medicine Wheel which is a nice and gentle reference to the practice of knowledge transfer through story listening in ancient cultures.

By these choices the orientation of the HSC has been fixed and we can move on to describe its 7 spaces. We will start wit the aspects of chaos, next discuss the control and ordered one, continue with autonomic and complex aspects and finish the description of the outer spaces of the HSC with the cooperative aspects. Finally we will discuss the central soul & identity aspects hexagon.

Chaos aspects

When viewed as a system, the world we live in can be classified as complex adaptive system. This means that on the level of the whole earth (of maybe even the universe) there is nothing or nobody that has full control over the system. Still for an observer (and here there is a thick link with first and second order Cybernetics) from within the system the world as a whole is completely chaotic until some cognitive perception/sensing process takes place by the body and/or the mind. So incoming data/signals about actions/events/objects in the outside world are completely unrelated to each other until cognition starts.

When anything known (something of a certain type) is recognized, the system proceeds via the west (left) side of the CSF else, when everything seems unrelated, it proceeds via the east (right) side.

Control aspects

The system (and note this may be anything alive – from an amoeba to a large animal, from a single human to a large group of people in a workshop and from an almost closed organisation to an open and flexible network) will process the incoming signals/data and basically will try to recognise entities (types) it has seen or learned earlier. In case of a perfect fit the system will know how to control it. Its a simple situation where it is obvious to all what should be done to handle the situation. In this case the system can move directly to  cooperation/action. In some cases several types match and further processing is needed. So the information is moved to the order processing space.

Order aspects

When types are absent, vague or contrary further investigation/analysis/expertise must be applied. For these habits (processes) are invoked to discover more ordered aspects. When this is successful  a match with an appropriate action can be made and the situation can be handled.

Autonomy aspects

Now that we have covered the control and ordered aspects we need to jump back to the case when no types are discoverable in the input data/signal.

It can happen that the incoming data/signals are novel, unique, first-of-a-kind, etc. In such cases the system must act autonomously and bring its creativity to bear. In such cases the system can feel lonely and experience a sense of singleness as it seems to be in a unique or at least very rare set of circumstances. Chance/rare circumstance, extreme luck/misfortune and unique accidents/opportunities/perspectives are good examples.

Complex aspects

Complex aspects are those attributed of the incoming signal whose future or response cannot be predicted in any way. When these are discovered contextually appropriate actions must be matched and next proposed.

Please note that it is a very common error to state that something (a system or situation) is complex. This is nonsense as any real-world object or event has chaotic, controllable, ordered, cooperative and/or autonomous aspects too. This is the main reason the HSC has aspects, not domain, as with domains the risks are sky-high someone will soon say “this [something] is in the complex domain“.

Cooperation aspects

When the system has discovered order and selected possible actions or matched detected patterns with contextually sensible tries (probing), it must still decide which action(s/probe(s) to carry out (or not). The decision to cooperate is an internal one even though aspects of the cooperation (f.e. properties of the object, patterns in context or relations to other organisms) must be considered too. In this process co-evolution of the system with its cooperative partners and the viability of the system itself are and have to be considered too.

Soul & Identity aspects


Honouring the giant shoulders the HSC stands on

The HSC was developed over the years and first released in Juni 2015. In the release post quite a few references were given. For reasons of practicality and brevity not all relevant literature was included. If you feel vital references are missing, please contact us using the contact form below.


Contact us on the Hexagon Sensemaking Canvas