This method aims to collaboratively, but silently, map the collective thinking (concepts, feelings, associations) of a group, focusing on a specific topic or issue.
Instead of deliberating complex questions through animated discussions (our default approach), silence enables a deeper state of reflection and prevents louder voices from dominating the conversation. This exercise can be a good way to crystallize core insights gained in the ‘Reflection’ phase of theory U before moving to more active engagement in planning. Focusing on a specific issue or question, participants silently brainstorm ideas and keywords and then, remaining in silence, collectively cluster the contributions based on similarity - so-called ‘Affinity clusters’. The process enacts a collaborative negotiation that surfaces and draws attention to points of alignment and differences of opinion within the group, enabling clearer understanding and sense of connection.
Blank A4 or A5 paper; pens or markers; coloured paper or sticky notes for the clusters captions (optional).
Participants might feel uncomfortable or frustrated about not being able to talk. Explain the reasoning in advance or let them know that such feelings are normal and that there will be space for discussion afterwards.
This exercise was shared with us by Marieke Ploeg at a facilitation training organized by
Concept Mapping: Trochim (1989). An introduction to concept mapping for planning and evaluation.
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