Do you have an affinity for SILENT sticky wall brainstorming? Part 1

The silent sticky wall is a useful tool to engage quiet members during a brainstorming session.

Photo credit: jipinghe
Photo credit: jipinghe

The Michigan State University Extension Facilitative Leadership Program teaches several divergent thinking, also known as brainstorming tools. Among those tools is an affinity diagram, sometimes referred to as “silent sticky wall.” The description found in this facilitator’s toolkit explains that the affinity diagram combines individual/collective group brainstorming with a structured approach to displaying the ideas in commonality with each other by theme. This article will discuss the application of “silent sticky wall,” while part 2 will discuss how a facilitator should put the tool into practice by walking through each step.

The name of the process, affinity diagram, arises from the fact that all of the ideas/products within a theme have an “affinity” (or a relationship) to one another. It is a creative, rather than linear process, which produces consensus by sorting cards rather than by discussion.

An affinity diagram allows a group to come up with a large amount of material without concern for categories or interrelationships. The process allows group members to move the items around and regroup them until the desired relationship and categories are formed.

The Facilitator Excellence Instructor’s Guide, by Fran Rees pp. 158-159 explains that; an affinity diagram helps a group organize a lot of information in a short amount of time. It involves the group actively in organizing its own material. An affinity diagram makes it possible to visualize the complexity and relationships of a lot of information. It serves as a stepping-stone in deciding how to approach a change, a plan or a decision.

Use an affinity diagram when there is a lot of information to be categorized, to stimulate creativity in the group and to involve all group members at once. Use it when facts, thoughts, ideas and opinions are in chaos and need to be recorded in some useful, organized fashion.

The University of Wisconsin Extension explains that the affinity diagram is used:

  • To bring structure to a large or complicated issue
  • To break down a complicated issues into easy-to-understand categories
  • To ensure that all participants have an equal voice
  • To build consensus

Michigan State University Extension offers professional development training, including volunteer board development, communicating through conflict, meeting management and facilitation skills development and organizational strategic visioning and planning.

Photo credit: jipinghe

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