Bringing a group of people together to solve a problem or make a plan is a great idea, especially where that group needs to commit to act on the ideas they generate. There is a simple, structured approach which will harness the group's creativity and allow them to generate a range of ideas. It is called the "Consensus Workshop"
The method has five steps:
- Set the context - introduce the focus question
- Brainstorm the ideas
- Cluster the ideas
- Name the idea clusters
- Review and action.
Setting the context states why the group has been gathered and what the situation is that requires their collective thinking. The method to be followed is outlined together with a general idea of the outcome and products. The focus question sets the boundaries for what exactly is to be discussed.
Next, ideas are brainstormed. Begin with an individual brainstorm - each person works on their own making a list of their ideas. Then the ideas are collected and reviewed by the whole group until a consolidated list is prepared, resolving duplicates and capturing new ideas prompted by the discussion.
Third, the group reviews the list and identifies common threads or clusters.
The ideas are gathered together into the clusters. At this stage it is sufficient to merely group ideas together because they have something in common without defining exactly what the thread or cluster is.
Fourthly, now name the clusters. Review the clusters and discuss what are the common threads.
Express these as phrases or very short sentences. These will form the big ideas or focused directions for the actions that may follow.
Finally, review what has been achieved and test the level of agreement and consensus. Begin the discussion on what needs doing and by whom. Form these ideas into an initial action plan for subsequent development. Document the outputs.
The consensus workshop method was defined by the Institute for Cultural Affairs (ICA) and is explained, with examples, in the publication, "The Workshop Book, from Individual Creativity to Group Action", by R. Brian Stanfield.