Consensus Mapping

More than any other situation Change is about cooperation and collaboration. No matter if your company is in serious trouble or just wants to find a new way to line itself up – it always needs people to initiate, moderate, steer, coordinate and live that Change.

So what? The problem is that often people simply don´t know how to cooperate. Of course people cooperate on a daily base, but this is mostly routine, it´s like a form of vegetative state. Change causes different needs and different needs urges people to modify their behavior.

Over years I have collected several “Creativity Techniques” to support Cooperation between people – not only in times of Change. It is always better to be prepared than surprised…

What are Creativity Techniques?
Creativity techniques are heuristic methods to facilitate creativity in a person or a group of people. They are most often used in creative problem solving.

Generally, most creativity techniques use associations between the goal (or the problem), the current state (which may be an imperfect solution to the problem), and some stimulus (possibly selected randomly). There is an analogy between many creativity techniques and methods of evolutionary computation.

In problem-solving contexts, the random word creativity technique is perhaps the simplest such method. A person confronted with a problem is presented with a randomly generated word, in the hopes of a solution arising from any associations between the word and the problem. A random image, sound, or article can be used instead of a random word as a kind of creativity goad or provocation.

Consensus Mapping
The consensus mapping technique (Hart et al., 1985) helps a facilitator and group reach consensus about how best to arrange a network of up to maybe 20 – 30 activities that have to be sequenced over time into a useable plan of action (e.g. outlining a 10-year network of sequentially linked activities to deal with a complex environmental pollution issue). These will usually be activities that could be done in a range of orders – i.e. the order has to be approved – it is not given by the internal logic of the activities themselves.

The technique has parallels to many of the usual project planning methods (and could if necessary feed into them) but operates at a purely qualitative, outline, level.

It merges elements of standard clustering techniques such at KJ-method and Snowball Technique with elements of sequential mapping Causal Mapping incorporated into a wider consensus-seeking procedure that has associates with Eden;s SODA method. Here is the suggested procedure:

  • Present the ideas: Devise a master list, via any suitable means, detailing all the ideas to be used in the single coherent action plan required, e.g. brainstorm the activities needed to implement some idea or project. Everyone copies the master list onto Post-its, or equivalent, one idea per slip.
  • Form groups: The facilitator form 2 – 4 task groups, each of 5 – 9 individuals in each.
  • Private clustering: Individuals in groups makes their own private attempt to group the ideas into related clusters or categories.
  • Sharing in triads: Join together in pairs or triads within each task group to describe one another’s clusters.
  • Group clustering: Individual task groups combine to try merging their private clustering into a shared clustering they can all accept.
  • Group review: following group clustering, clarification of the original ideas, and re-evaluation of them takes place.
  • Facilitators create and present a ‘Strawman’ integrated map: each task group delivers their group clusters to the facilitator they then take a break. During the break, staff members consolidate the group cluster maps into a single overall cluster map, containing all the ideas, categories, and relationships generated by the groups. This ‘Strawman map’ is presented to the group as a whole when they come back together.
  • Map reconfiguration: The whole group splits itself again into the respective task groups, and each one uses the ‘Strawman Map’ for motivation and stimuli for developing its own map in which cluster of activities are linked sequentially. Links made of ribbon or yarns are better than pen lines at this stage, because they can be changed.
  • Plenary presentation: Each task group exhibits its map of sequentially linked clusters to the others.
  • Map consolidation: Representatives from each task group meet to construct a single final map that combines the features of all the maps.

The complete procedure works best with a trained group, but the mapping element could easily be adapted to informal solo use.

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