Snowballing

Snowballing is one of my favourite ways of clustering ideas or concepts when I’m working with groups.  It can be used in combination with brainstorming and it leads to the identification of themes in a large set of data.

It is particularly good for facilitating an equality of input, lessening the inhibition of individuals in group process, flexibility in the grouping of material, allowing for iteration, a bit of peace and quiet, and throwing up unexpected results, which appeals to my anarchistic tendencies.

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Process:

  1. Generation: Individuals write one idea, issue or concept relating to the subject under consideration onto post-it notes, one idea etc per post-it.  After a few minutes of generating post-its individually, the group (or facilitator) randomly place the post-its onto a large wall.  Then group members have another round of generating material having been inspired (hopefully!) by what colleagues have produced.
  2. Clustering: Silently (yes that means no talking!) the group members re-arrange the post-its on the wall/table into groupings.  Anyone is free to move any post-it, or rearrange clusters etc.  The idea is that the group will try various groupings/clusterings until there is an unspoken agreement on a final form and the process finishes. Expect “false-endings” when it appears to be over but sudden rearrangement by someone with a sudden insight…

The silence is important, at least for the first few minutes.  If one person explains why they have moved a post-it, others follow.  Silent clustering is more intuitive and allows more equal participation.  If there’s a near ding dong with a post-it getting passed back and forth between clusters, intervene.  Don’t arbitrate, just copy it.  You can’t be in two places at once but a post-it can (Hutchinson’s Fifth Law).

Once clustered – the group give a name to each cluster.

Variations:

  • Facilitator can read out all post-its having collected them in. Can iterate many or few times.
  • Facilitator or problem owner can intervene with more direction after each iteration.
  • Post-its can be placed on table as generated or kept individually in groups.
  • A “Plant” can seed ideas by putting in wacky suggestions etc (if you need to open up ideas)
  • Once clustered and named, each post-it could be numbered accordinGly, then the group could re-cluster into different grouping – this could be a way of moving from a traditional/safe approach to something more radical/innovative?
  • Technique can be mixed with others.
  • Experiment with what works for you.

Top Tip:  Remind participants to write with the glue at the top of the post-it!

All rights reserved © 2014 Andrew Hutchinson

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