collaborative plotting for large groups


The recent discussion about using Post-Its and a WiKi-like Whiteboard to facilliate collaboration in a large face to face group meeting finally got me to write up my own use. I have hinted at my method on the "Never Work Alone" Google-group, and you can read it in context on the blog. Here I will now try and write up the complete process and how I used it...

First, some notes. I always assumed my process was modeled after the "Open Space" idea. Reading up on that I'm no longer sure. None the less the process described here worked very well for large groups, and that's what counts. Especially as it not only "worked" as in "produce results", but also fullfilled most of my expectations for it (I will elaborate on those later).

What was the outset?

The process:

The whole group meets in a large enough room. The faciliator explains what is to happen and lays down the basic rukes. Cclearly defining the overall goal of the sesion helps focus the participants in this phase.

phase one - collecting ideas

In the first pahase we collect ideas and visions.

The group breaks up to do pair-interviews. Each participant moves through the group to interview each other participant about his/her ideas and wishes for the event. The questioner then notes down the answers in headline form (concepts, keywords, short phrases) on Post-Its. NOTE: participants only ever note down what others answer, never their own ideas. Those will be noted once they are interviewed.

This phase should have enough time for each participant to pair with each other. It is important to keep the individual interviews short as to enable a full round.

At any time participant can offload their notes to the central whiteboard, wall, window or similar surface. All notes will be collected here, unsorted and chaotic at first. Do not sort in this phase. Interviewing and giving answers is what counts now.

The role of the faciliator in this phase is to smooth and guide the process. Disrupt lenghtly elaborations or discussions, give help with asking the right questions, help pair people etc. The faciliuator should under no circumstances take any role in the topic or the crfeation of content. Keep things moving, motivate, guide.

phase two - grouping concepts

Once the pairings are done the group gathers and the faciliator explains the next phase.

phase three - interpretion

phase four - storyselling

phase five - finding an consensus

additional notes:

real world uses:

I have successfully used this process with a very divergent group of participants (20+) that had no prior consensus on plot or theme. In the space of only two hours the group had arrived at a point where there was the outline of an intriguing plot and a good general consensus on theme and setting.

It must be noted that this example was a virtual one, as the participants had no real intention or plan of organizing the event in real. None of the participants brought any prior agenda to the session. I still think that this process can very well work to lay a good workable foundation, from which the group could then work.

Also all in all the participants had great fun experimenting with this novel approach and were suprised at the painless and efficient way they arrived at something that might otherwise have been debated over weeks.


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Martin Spernau
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