Author: Frank Kupper – Athena Institute, Faculty of Science, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdamty Amsterdam, Netherlands


  • Virgil Rerimassie – Athena Institute, Faculty of Science, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Netherlands
  • Tessa Roedema – Athena Institute, Faculty of Science, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Netherlands

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a situation that is enormously complex, rapidly changing, and impacting al our lives. When people are confronted with such an uncertain and ambiguous situation, they engage in sensemaking to answer the questions “what’s going on here” and “what to do”. Sensemaking is a socially constructed process or practice in which individuals interact with their environment to develop and understanding of a complex reality. Because the pandemic is so complex and emergent, information is often incomplete, fragmented, and contradictory. This poses significant challenges for people’s sensemaking practices and the communicative practices of scientists, communicators and journalists.

In this study, as part of the EU-funded project RETHINK, we have investigated sensemaking practices of citizens across eight EU countries (Germany, Poland, Serbia, Italy, Portugal, UK, Netherlands and Sweden). We interviewed citizens that were confronted with the pandemic in a range of different situations. We applied Dervin’s sensemaking methodology to focus the open-ended interviews on so-called “micro-moments”, moments in which people are confronted with a gap in understanding of an ambiguous and uncertain situation. Together with our participants, we elaborated how they integrated their experience, knowledge, context and available sources to reach a momentary understanding of a particular issue.

We have performed over 80 interviews that have been analysed using a thematic analysis approach. Our preliminary findings show how participants often struggled to position themselves. Sensemaking processes were particularly shaped by an individual’s personal experience and needs. Also, emotions, values, worldviews and relationships with friends, family or colleagues play an influential role.

Studying sensemaking in the context of the pandemic allows science communication scholars to better understand sensemaking practices, and to question current assumptions about communicative practices. Furthermore, it will provide new strategies for science communicators and journalists to build open and trustworthy relationships between science and society.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Transformation