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When sensemaking remains local: implications for distributed sensemaking in reform implementation

Cathrine Filstad (Department of Leadership and Organization, Kristiania University College, Oslo, Norway and Norwegian Police University College, Oslo, Norway)
Trude Høgvold Olsen (School of Business and Economics, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Harstad, Norway)
Anja Overgaard Thomassen (Department of Culture and Learning, Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark)

Journal of Workplace Learning

ISSN: 1366-5626

Article publication date: 19 August 2022

Issue publication date: 20 April 2023




This paper aims to contribute to the literature on distributed sensemaking by studying how the police establish and develop their new position as police contacts during the police reform.


The authors studied how the position of police contact, a cornerstone of the recent Norwegian police reform, was interpreted and practised. The authors interviewed police contacts at two different times during reform implementation to explore how they made sense of and practised their job.


The authors identified three interpretations of the position of police contact and describe them as ideal types: an administrative position, a professional position and a strategic position. The ideal types were reinforced rather than developing towards a shared understanding. Our data demonstrate that the sensemaking processes and experimentation to settle into the new position involved local actors internally in the police and externally in relation to local authorities, and reinforced local interpretations.


This study supports the notion of sensemaking as distributed but extends previous research by suggesting that “ideal types” help us understand the content of interpretations. This study also extends the understanding by showing that distributed sensemaking takes place as individuals make sense of more open-ended problems. This challenges the understanding of the term distributed, because unless challenged, distributed sensemaking in isolated pockets of the organization remain local, and the authors suggest that the term local distributed sensemaking captures this phenomenon.



The authors would like to thank the editor and the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments.


Filstad, C., Olsen, T.H. and Thomassen, A.O. (2023), "When sensemaking remains local: implications for distributed sensemaking in reform implementation", Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 35 No. 3, pp. 249-264.



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