Navigating Ambiguity: Maps | Julian Stodd’s Learning Blog


I’m developing some of the ideas and activities behind the programme on ‘Navigating Ambiguity’, and today sharing a few fragments of thought around that work.

‘Complexity’, ‘Uncertainty’, and ‘Ambiguity’, as concepts, may be easily confused, or become mixed up with one another. Under a Scaffolded Social Learning approach, one common technique is to ask people to map or chart certain ideas, to make their internal understanding explicit, to see if we can spot common patterns or places of divergence across a population, and i’m looking to do something similar here.

In the early stages of this work (this is the 1st Prototype) it will simply be a case of asking a group to capture six words that describe each of the three concepts, and to map them into a Venn type diagram, using the overlapping areas where a term describes their understanding that relates to two or more areas.

This will give us potentially seven different spaces: words that clear just relate to one term, words that relate to two terms, and words that relate to all three. Is there a thought, characteristic or feeling that relates to all three?

We will end up with the following:

  • Words that describe Complexity
  • Words that describe Uncertainty
  • Words that describe Ambiguity
  • Words that describe Complexity and Uncertainty
  • Words that describe Complexity and Ambiguity
  • Words that describe Uncertainty and Ambiguity
  • Words that describe Complexity, Uncertainty and Ambiguity

My map may look something like this:

To fill this in, we may also consider how these terms are originated: are we describing ‘External Characteristics’ – our ‘perceptions’ of what we see, or ‘Internal Responses’ – our ‘feelings’ about what we perceive. In my example i think i’m using far more emotional words that direct perceptions: i guess that ‘murky’ describes being unable to see with clarity, but words like ‘scary’ and ‘frustrating’ describe my emotional response.

Across a group (and i hope to be able to do this next week) we may be able to see if different people tend to use more words of perception or emotion, and indeed whether words are uniformly used, or variably so. Perhaps more directly we could track this longitudinally, to see if words used change after people have been immersed in a topic or idea for a while.

For the first Prototype of the new programme though, i am not primarily interested in generating clear data, so much as prototyping a range of techniques for small and simple experiments and sampling approaches. My design guidance on this is that the ‘research’ component of the work should only take delegates between two and fifteen minutes a week, and should have a focus on data that can be used, for insight, provocation, or tracking change.

Social Learning is typically an approach that charts our divergent understanding, not the surfacing of a single or simple ‘truth’, so spatial types of representation, maps and landscapes, can be useful illustrations of this.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.


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