If participatory techniques are good for one thing, it’s generating ideas. It’s worth noting that this stage of the process is about surfacing as many ideas as possible: about ‘letting a thousand flowers bloom as the saying goes’.
The trick here is to ensure that the groups don’t become bogged down discussing the relative merits of each suggestion, or the reasons why it will never work. The time for that will come later. For now let’s keep the focus completely on the positive and creative and keep those ideas rolling…
What could be simpler? A blank wall or piece of flip chart paper, a bunch of Post-it Notes and some felt tip pens! Give the group(s) an issue to consider (“How can we reduce the number of emails we send” for example) and encourage them to write as many ideas to address the issue as possible. Record one idea per Post-it Note and stick it wherever they like on the wall/paper.
As with the H-Form, this is an exercise best conducted individually with each participant taking some time to think about the issue from their perspective and add their own suggestions. This helps ensure everyone gets an equal chance to air their views without being influenced by the thoughts of others. And the relative anonymity of the process helps encourage honesty (and/or bravery).
Duplication of suggestions can in themselves also be illustrative by demonstrating a level of enthusiasm for the idea across the group.
Once everyone has added their contribution it’s useful to go through them all as a plenary group. This allows the opportunity to clarify any suggestions that are at all unclear. It can also be worthwhile trying to group the suggestions where some common themes seem to be emerging (though be careful to guard against inadvertently imposing emphases or interpretations of your own which might not be shared by the participants).
Stick the Post-It Note on a wall somewhere. That way each participant has to physically get up out of their chair and move around when adding their suggestions. An instant energiser!
Another favourite! This works really well as a follow up activity to either an H-Form or graffiti wall and is another great one for helping to progress the discussion from identifying issues to working on solutions. On a sheet of flip chart paper write the subject, topic or question to be discussed in the middle.
Then take what are felt within the group to be the four most pressing or important issues/problems related to that subject (possibly identified through an earlier activity) and add them to the sheet, one in each corner and draw a line from each ‘issue’ to the centre.
Participants should then consider each ‘issue’ in turn and come up with as many solutions as possible which would help resolve it. Write each solution on a separate Post-it note and add it somewhere along the relevant line. Once again it’s usually best to encourage everyone to work independently and to come up with their own ideas and then to discuss them as a group.
When discussing the suggested solutions keep an eye out for those which appear more than once, especially if they have been suggested as potential solutions to different issues – you might be on your way to identifying some quick wins.
This is part ideas generator and part energiser and builds nicely on a graffiti wall exercise. Divide the group into three (perhaps using one of the group sorters outlined above). Give each group a piece of flip chart paper, some Post-it notes (what would we do without them?) and some pens. Then take three of the questions arrived at through the previous graffiti wall exercise and allocate one per group.
Each group then goes away and considers the question for five minutes, adding as many possible answers or suggestions as possible. Once the five minutes is up each group gets up and moves round to look at the next flip chart completed by their colleagues, read through the question they’ve been considering and the solutions they’ve come up with and add more of their own.
Once the next five minutes is up everyone moves around once more until each group has had the chance to consider and contribute to each question.
The advantage of this exercise is you get three different perspectives on each issue.
You can use this technique with various exercises. As indicated above, a graffiti wall works well, but there is no reason why each of the groups can’t be contributing to an H-Form or spider diagram instead as they move their way around the room.
As mentioned earlier, many of these participatory tools and techniques are simple means of giving shape and structure to a thought process. In doing so it gives you all the advantages of starting with a ‘blank canvas’ (no limitations or restrictions to your creativity) whilst removing the disadvantages (‘writer’s block’), not knowing where to start etc). A matrix is a good example of this and can be used in an infinite number of ways and circumstances.
In essence it involves the drawing on a flipchart paper of a grid of horizontal and vertical lines to form your matrix. How many lines and what each column and row signifies is up to you/the group to define (perhaps based on the outcomes of a previous exercise). A couple of examples we have used include:
- Stakeholder matrix putting stakeholders down the left hand side and best means of communication along the bottom and then ticking all the relevant options that will apply INSERT EXAMPLE
- Benefits matrix putting the type of benefit down the left hand side and who the benefit will be relevant to along the bottom and then populating the grid with examples – see enterprise architecture example.
Another inexpensive method of generating ideas and creating solutions is ‘Rory’s Story Cubes’. They are sets of nine dice each containing six images. Rolling the dice and using the images to construct a story can really help to encourage creativity.
In using this technique our advice would be not to think too hard about it. Throw the dice and let the ideas flow, you may well be surprised at how quickly you can begin to gather your thoughts and ideas together in a useful and cohesive way.