Sub-theme 44: Making Sense of Uncertain Futures -> HYBRID sub-theme!

Elena Dalpiaz
Imperial College London, United Kingdom
Emma Sandström
Aalto University, Finland
Henri Schildt
Aalto University, Finland

Call for Papers

Sensemaking research provides a powerful lens to understand how individuals, teams, and organizations understand and engage with the future. The classic focus of sensemaking was on retrospection, examining how individuals, teams, and organizations came to understand and respond to unexpected changes and observations of what had transpired (Maitlis & Christianson, 2014; Weick, 1979, 1995). Over time, however, scholars have recognized the importance of future-oriented sensemaking processes (Gioia & Mehra, 1996; Gephart, Topal, & Zhang, 2010). Actors engage in prospective sensemaking that seeks to conceive and enact future outcomes (Stigliani & Ravasi, 2012), and they connect the past and present to the future to create coherent and compelling narratives (Cornelissen & Clarke, 2010; Ganzin et al 2020; Kaplan & Orlikowski, 2013). Yet, much work remains to be done to fully leverage the opportunities arising at the intersection of temporal structures and sensemaking processes.
The ability to make sense of the uncertain future, or alternative uncertain futures, is timely and relevant for individuals and organizations (Wenzel, Krämer, Koch, & Reckwitz, 2020). Pandemics, crises of mass displacement, and the climate change create a heightened sense of uncertainty about the future that affects an increasing share of organizations. Interpretation of the situation can no longer be based on the past or the present when the future promises to be discontinuous. To cope with uncertainties, individuals and organizations engage in sensemaking processes to form coherent narratives of ‘what is going on’ as well as ‘what will happen?’, often with the intent of enacting a better future. At the same time, new technologies are emerging to predict likely future outcomes and identify ‘weak signals’, both of which inform human sensemaking processes. While humans have used extrapolation and analogies to imagine futures that either unfold or are willed into existence (Cornelissen & Clarke, 2010; Gephart et al., 2010), increasingly powerful machine learning algorithms can now predict and simulate futures. We have a rather limited understanding of how data and algorithms shape how individuals, teams, and organizations make sense in general, and when faced with uncertainty in particular.
Future-oriented sensemaking is likely to be strongly affected by cultural frames, belief systems, and temporal structures. These social structures highlight the relevance that institutional theory has for understanding future-oriented sensemaking processes. Whereas retrospective sensemaking is grounded in cues and observable outcomes, the future does not exist in a material form and thus cannot be interpreted in the same way as the present or the past. This inherent openness of the future creates interesting questions regarding the development of competing frames (Kaplan, 2008) that draw selectively on diverse institutional logics (Dalpiaz, Rindova, & Ravasi, 2016; McPherson & Sauder, 2013) and temporal orientations (Reinecke & Ansari, 2015). Likewise, cultural resources are likely to be an important input into individual efforts to regulate uncertainty (Griffin & Grote, 2020) and leader sensegiving that uses projective narratives to turn uncertainty into shared expectations and commitments (Dalpiaz & Di Stefano, 2018; Garud, Schildt & Lant, 2014). Future-oriented sensemaking seems to commonly construct, and be informed by, shared field-level accounts of the future (Augustine, Soderstrom, Milner, & Weber, 2019; Granqvist & Laurila, 2011; Wry, Lounsbury, & Glynn, 2011). In some cases, shared futures may act as systemic power structures that individual actors are compelled to conform with (Schildt, Mantere, & Cornelissen, 2020).
Our sub-theme is open to diverse methods and empirical settings, ranging from ethnography and case studies to archival studies and even experiments. To better understand future-making and uncertainty, participants may want to examine atypical and extreme research contexts characterized by uncertainty as premonitions for the chaotic “new normal” of disruptions and discontinuities we may now be entering. The submissions should connect to sensemaking, building on the sensemaking theory and/or taking sensemaking processes as the empirical focus. We encourage participants to draw inspiration from the growing research on temporality and futures (e.g. Bansal, Reinecke, Suddaby, & Langley, 2022; Beckert & Bronk, 2018; Hampel & Dalpiaz, 2023; Reinecke & Lawrence, 2022; Shipp & Jansen, 2021; Tavory & Eliasoph, 2013). At the same time, we also encourage unexpected and innovative use of literatures.
We welcome studies on any topics relating to sensemaking and the future. The research questions could include, for example:
Sensemaking of uncertain contexts

  • How do teams or organizations make sense in unexpected situations where external ruptures invalidate established frames and action patterns?

  • How do newly founded teams or organizations establish a shared understanding of a new and uncertain context?

  • How do organizational fields and industry ecosystems collectively make sense of the uncertain futures?

  • What factors enable teams or organizations to take action when faced with radical uncertainty?

Uncertainty in the sensemaking process

  • How are perceptions of uncertainty constructed and adapted in sensemaking?

  • When and how do teams maintain a sense of ambivalence or equivocality in the sensemaking process?

  • Does uncertainty influence how the sub-processes of observing, interpreting, and enacting interact in sensemaking?

  • How are the understandings of the future intertwined with and colored by the affective experiences of the past and the present?

Sensemaking in the contemporary society

  • How do digital data flows and predictive algorithms shape how teams and organizations understand and cope with uncertain future?

  • How do the conflicting trends of radical transparency and privacy shape future-oriented sensemaking in organizations?

  • How do ideological and political conflicts shape future perceptions and projections in teams and organizations?


  • Augustine, G., Soderstrom, S., Milner, D., & Weber, K. (2019). Constructing a distant future: Imaginaries in geoengineering. Academy of Management Journal, 62(6), 1930-1960.
  • Bansal, P., Reinecke, J., Suddaby, R., & Langley, A. (2022). Temporal Work: The Strategic Organization of Time. Strategic Organization, 20 (1), 6-19.
  • Beckert, J., & Bronk, R. (Eds.). (2018). Uncertain Futures: Imaginaries, Narratives, and Calculation in the Economy. Oxford University Press.
  • Cornelissen, J. P., & Clarke, J. S. (2010). Imagining and rationalizing opportunities: Inductive reasoning and the creation and justification of new ventures. Academy of Management Review, 35(4), 539-557.
  • Dalpiaz, E., Rindova, V., & Ravasi, D. (2016). Combining logics to transform organizational agency: Blending industry and art at Alessi. Administrative Science Quarterly, 61 (3), 347-392.
  • Dalpiaz, E., & Di Stefano, G. (2018). A universe of stories: Mobilizing narrative practices during transformative change. Strategic Management Journal, 39 (3), 664-696.
  • Hampel, C. E., & Dalpiaz, E. (2023). Confronting the Contested Past: Sensemaking and Rhetorical History in the Reconstruction of Organizational Identity. Academy of Management Journal.
  • Kaplan, S. (2008). Framing contests: Strategy making under uncertainty. Organization Science, 19 (5), 729-752.
  • Maitlis, S., & Christianson, M. (2014). Sensemaking in organizations: Taking stock and moving forward. Academy of Management Annals, 8 (1), 57-125.
  • Ganzin, M., Islam, G., & Suddaby, R. (2020). Spirituality and entrepreneurship: The role of magical thinking in future-oriented sensemaking. Organization Studies, 41 (1), 77-102.
  • Garud, R., Schildt, H. A., & Lant, T. K. (2014). Entrepreneurial storytelling, future expectations, and the paradox of legitimacy. Organization Science, 25 (5), 1479-1492.
  • Granqvist, N., & Laurila, J. (2011). Rage against self-replicating machines: Framing science and fiction in the US nanotechnology field. Organization Studies, 32(2), 253-280.
  • Gioia, D. A., & Mehra, A. (1996). Review of Weick’s Sensemaking in organizations. Academy of Management Review, 21: 1226-1230.
  • Gephart, R., Topal, Ç., & Zhang, Z. (2010). Future-oriented sensemaking: Temporalities and institutional legitimation. In: Hernes T. & Maitlis S. (Eds): Process, Sensemaking and Organizing. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Griffin, M. A., & Grote, G. (2020). When is more uncertainty better? A model of uncertainty regulation and effectiveness. Academy of Management Review, 45 (4), 745-765.
  • Kaplan, S. (2008). Framing contests: Strategy making under uncertainty. Organization Science, 19 (5), 729-752.
  • Kaplan, S., & Orlikowski, W. J. (2013). Temporal work in strategy making. Organization Science, 24 (4), 965-995.
  • McPherson, C. M., & Sauder, M. (2013). Logics in action: Managing institutional complexity in a drug court. Administrative Science Quarterly, 58 (2), 165-196.
  • Reinecke, J., & Ansari, S. (2015). When times collide: Temporal brokerage at the intersection of markets and developments. Academy of Management Journal, 58 (2), 618-648.
  • Reinecke, J., & Lawrence, T. B. (2022). The role of temporality in institutional stabilization: A process view. Academy of Management Review.
  • Schildt, H., Mantere, S., & Cornelissen, J. (2020). Power in sensemaking processes. Organization Studies, 41 (2), 241-265.
  • Shipp, A. J., & Jansen, K. J. (2021). The “other” time: A review of the subjective experience of time in organizations. Academy of Management Annals, 15 (1), 299-334.
  • Stigliani, I., & Ravasi, D. (2012). Organizing thoughts and connecting brains: Material practices and the transition from individual to group-level prospective sensemaking. Academy of Management Journal, 55 (5), 1232-1259.
  • Tavory, I., & Eliasoph, N. (2013). Coordinating futures: Toward a theory of anticipation. American Journal of Sociology, 118 (4), 908-942.
  • Weick, K. E. (1979). The Social Psychology of Organizing (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Weick, K. E. (1995). Sensemaking in Organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
  • Wenzel, M., Krämer, H., Koch, J., & Reckwitz, A. (2020). Future and organization studies: On the rediscovery of a problematic temporal category in organizations. Organization Studies, 41 (10), 1441-1455.
  • Wry, T., Lounsbury, M., & Glynn, M.A. (2011). Legitimating nascent collective identities: Coordinating cultural entrepreneurship. Organization Science, 22 (2), 449-463.
Elena Dalpiaz is an Associate Professor of Stratey at Imperial College London Business School, United Kingdom. Her research on how organizational members and leaders interpret and use meanings for strategy and entrepreneurship purposes has been published in a number of journals, including ‘Organization Science’, ‘Administrative Science Quarterly’, ‘Strategic Management Journal’, and ‘Academy of Management Journal’.
Emma Sandström is a Lecturer at the Department of Organisation and Management at Åbo Akademi, Finland. Her research focuses on sensemaking and temporal dynamics in mission-driven organizations and social ventures.
Henri Schildt is a Full Professor at Aalto University School of Business, Finand. He has published a number of articles on sensemaking in outlets that include ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Organization Studies’, and ‘Strategic Management Journal’. Henri has also published several other articles on temporality, including one article on projective narratives in ‘Organization Science’ and one on experience on time in ‘Organization Studies’.