Beyond words: how visual imagery shapes collaborative sensemaking in entrepreneurial ecosystems  

Bernd Wurth, Suzanne Mawson

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Entrepreneurial ecosystems (EEs) are complex social systems dependent on connectivity and shared understanding between diverse actors. An often used, albeit oversimplified view, implies that diverse actors connect, collaborate and contribute to the EE in an almost frictionless way. However, this perspective overlooks the need for deeper forms of communication that can shift actors' perceptions, goals and motivations to trigger meaningful change. Recent research has highlighted the role of conversations, narratives and stories in developing (informal) institutions and shared understandings. What is missing from this discussion, however, are non-verbal forms of communication, which enable interpretation, support meaning-making and help implementation. This paper draws on communicative institutionalism theory and empirical observations from a larger participatory action research project. We discuss how visuals support richer interpretation of ambiguities, different perspectives and collaborative sensemaking. Images act as boundary objects enabling creative associations, revealing assumptions and catalysing explorative dialogue through inherent ambiguity. Representing complex concepts visually facilitates participant engagement over time. The co-creative process of iterative illustration also captures shared meaning as it emerges. Implications highlight visuals’ potential for fostering future-oriented dialogue, reflective practice and embodied institutions fundamental for EEs. From this, we outline suggestions for further research and practice.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00458
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Business Venturing Insights
Early online date1 Mar 2024
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2024


  • entrepreneurial ecosystems
  • entrepreneurship as practice
  • collaborative sensemaking
  • communicative institutionalism
  • visual imagery


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