Cynefin framework

This framework attempts to categorize situations into 4 areas so that we can decide which response to use for each area. You can understand which area the situation will fall into using these questions...

  • Do you know what causes the situation?
  • Is the situation under control?
  • How much do you know about it?
  • Does solving it require expert knowledge?


The "known knowns". We understand the situation, we have standard best practice in place to deal with the situation. Solution will be...

  1. Sense(understand the situation)
  2. categorize
  3. respond(apply best practice solution).


The "Known unknowns". Questions are clear - but solutions will require effort. There are multiple right answers/solutions are not immediately visible. Respond with...

  1. Sense
  2. Analyze - Study the situation and create a list of possible options before choosing.
  3. Respond


The "Unknown Unknowns". Unstable state that can't be understand by analysis. Even the questions are not clear. Approach...

  1. Experiment - get more data about the situation.
  2. Sense - understand the situation.
  3. Respond

Idea here is to learn enough about the situation to move it into the complicated space.

At this stage, you can use the Deming Cycle to take decisions.


Things are not in control, changing too fast. Cause and effect relations are not clear. Respond with...

  1. Act - do things to stabilize situation
  2. Sense - understand situation
  3. Respond


Extra area - when you don't know where you stand.

Cynefin Framework

Sensing in each of these areas can be thought of as Sense Making - but slightly different.