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Silent Conversation

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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.


  1. Introduce the issue or question at hand, such as: “What are impressions of the case?”;
  2. Invite participants to take a specific amount of time
    to reflect in silence and write down their ideas and contributions as a word or short phrase on a piece of paper or index card, and place them on a surface visible to everybody (a wall, the floor, a flip chart);
  3. Next, participants cluster all the contributions according to intuitive affinity/similarity, during an allocated set of time. Remind them that the process should happen in silence;
  4. After completion, discuss the different clusters with the participants and all together find a short descriptive caption for each, completing the conceptual map;
  5. Finally, in pairs, reflect on the experience of working in silence. Prompt with questions such as: “Were you surprised by anything?
Place on U
15 - 30 minutes
Materials Needed

Blank A4 or A5 paper; pens or markers; coloured paper or sticky notes for the clusters captions (optional).

Systems Thinking
Values & Worldviews
Surfacing Hidden Dynamics
Ideation & Brainstorming
Tip and Experiences

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.

Relevant References & Resources

This exercise was shared with us by Marieke Ploeg at a facilitation training organized by
Royal HaskoningDHV.

Concept Mapping: Trochim (1989). An introduction to concept mapping for planning and evaluation.

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