This study explores how thinking infrastructures can orchestrate collective sensemaking in unstable and socially contested environments, such as large-scale humanitarian crises. In particular, drawing from recent interest in the role of artifacts and infrastructures in sensemaking processes, the study examines the evaluative underpinnings of prospective sensemaking as groups attempt to develop novel understandings about a desired but ambiguous set of future conditions. To explore these theoretical concerns, a detailed case study of the unfolding challenges of managing a large-scale humanitarian crisis response was conducted. This study offers two contributions. Firstly, it develops a theorization of the process through which performance evaluation systems can serve as thinking infrastructures in the collaborative development of new understandings in unstable environments. Secondly, this study sheds light on the practices that support prospective sensemaking through specific features of thinking infrastructures, and unpacks how prospective and retrospective forms of sensemaking may interact in such processes.
The authors are grateful for the help and advise of Martin Kornberger, Andrea Mennicken and Neil Pollock who provided helpful comments on earlier drafts. We would also like to express our gratitude to the following people for providing valuable suggestions and ideas during the writing process. These include: Paolo Quattrone, David Cooper, Iris Bosa, Silvia Jordan, Stephen Walker, Shaul Hayoun, Jakov Jandrić and Daniela Toledo Machado. We are also grateful to the participants of various departmental seminars where this study has been presented (Refugee Studies Centre – University of Oxford; University of Innsbruck School of Management; Cambridge Judge Business School).
Gatzweiler, M.K. and Ronzani, M. (2019), "Prospective Sensemaking and Thinking Infrastructures in a Large-Scale Humanitarian Crisis", Kornberger, M., Bowker, G.C., Elyachar, J., Mennicken, A., Miller, P., Nucho, J.R. and Pollock, N. (Ed.) Thinking Infrastructures (Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 62), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 85-112. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0733-558X20190000062006
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