Cynefin /ˈkʌnɨvɪn/ is a Welsh word, which as a noun means "haunt, usual abode" or "habitat" and as an adjective "customary, habitual, familiar, usual, ordinary". The term was chosen by the Welsh scholar Dave Snowden to describe a perspective on the evolutionary nature of complex systems, including their inherent uncertainty ("The Cynefin framework"). The name serves as a reminder that all human interactions are strongly influenced and frequently determined by our experiences, both through the direct influence of personal experience, as well as through collective experience, such as stories or music.
The framework provides a typology of contexts that guides what sort of explanations or solutions might apply. It draws on research into complex adaptive systems theory, cognitive science, anthropology, and narrative patterns, as well as evolutionary psychology, to describe problems, situations, and systems. It "explores the relationship between man, experience, and context" and proposes new approaches to communication, decision-making, policy-making, and knowledge management in complex social environments.
The work of Snowden and his team was initially in the areas of knowledge management, cultural change, and community dynamics. It subsequently became also concerned with some critical business issues, such as product development, market creation, and branding. Their work has also involved issues of organizational strategy and national security.
Others have used the Cynefin framework for such purpose as analysing policymaking within the George W. Bush administration and the impact of religion in that process, the nature of response to bio-terrorism, as well as aspects of measurement in the British National Health Service. It has also been used for the retrospective study of emergency situations, the management of food chain risks, and to study the interaction between civilians and military during disaster control, as well as recognition of question patterns from citizens requests by (social) service organisations. Most recently it has been extended to cover software development within Agile.