Do you have an affinity for SILENT sticky wall brainstorming? Part 2

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

Photo credit: Language Links 2006
Photo credit: Language Links 2006

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 walk you through each step of using “silent sticky wall,” while part 1 discussed is applicability of the tool to a facilitator.

The University of Wisconsin Extension explains how to use the tool effectively by following these steps:

  1. Make introductions, review purpose and procedure for the meeting. Clearly state the question participants are to generate ideas about—have it written on a flip chart for all to see.
  2. Generate Ideas.
    1. Each participant writes ideas on post-it notes or index cards.
    2. Encourage people to write clear, concise ideas in one to three words.
    3. One idea is written per card/note.
    4. Allow about 15 minutes.
  3. Collect notes/cards.
    1. Collect the post-it notes or index cards.
    2. Mix them up and spread them out on a flat surface.
  4. Arrange cards into groupings.
    1. Participants pick out sticky notes/cards and place them into groupings. This can be done using the walls where sticky notes are clustered for all to see. Or, with a smaller group, index cards can be arranged on a large table.
    2. Restrict talking during this process so that participants aren’t influenced by each other and arguments don’t arise.
    3. Don’t force cards/notes into groupings. It is okay to have “loners.”
    4. Encourage participants to move sticky notes around until the best groupings emerge.
    5. Participants may move cards/notes that someone else has already placed; or if an idea seems to fit in two places, make a second card.
  5. Label each grouping.
    1. Participants develop a title or heading of a few concise words for each card grouping.
    2. Sometimes there is a card that captures the meaning of the group. Place that at the top of the group. If there is no such card, write one.
    3. Place groupings that are similar next to each other, or in order.
    4. Combine groupings that seem very similar, or divide groupings where the clustered cards/notes seem too dissimilar.
    5. Continue this process until participants agree on the groupings and labels.

Next steps could include using a voting procedure, such as that used in the “Sticky Dot Voting” tool to prioritize ideas generated. Follow this with further analysis of the priorities or with action planning.

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: Language Links 2006

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