A variant of the nominal group brainstorming is hexagon brainstorming. This technique enables a visual representation of a brainstorming session. Which can be used where an impasse has been reached in the groups problem solving. Or there is an issue needing the group’s appraisal and consensus before we can proceed. The patterns of the Hexagons also act as an powerful aid-mémoire. The unique shapes of the clusters powerfully adding to the memory of the participants as the session progress.
Use hexagon brainstorming when:
- There is a process impasse requiring idea-generation on a problem or issue;
- When we require the group’s assessment of project risks at the start of a project;
- When we need to assess at the start of a project risks and need a shared awareness;
- During the initial stages of conceptual modelling to identify the main variables and problem;
- To develop an initial scope and conceptualisation of a problem.
The facilitator sets down a question for the group to consider on a flip chart or white board. The question must ensure an open ended discussion can take place. It is good practice to have questions that are not ‘value laden’ but kept generic and open as possible. For example, rather than ‘what can we do to cut costs’, ‘what are the key problems in our cost structure’.
Then you give the participants time on their own within which to think in silence. And to write down as many items as they can on a piece of paper in response to the question.
- Allow about ten minutes for this task. After a few minutes the initial ‘easy’ options will be clear. Then we force the individuals to think more deeply for more ideas;
- When the ten minutes is up the participants are asked to give the first item on her list. This will be the usually the most ‘top of mind’ issue;
- The facilitator, or the group, can ask questions about the issue but direct discussion is not allowed. We allow no criticism or evaluation of the idea at this stage;
- A few keywords summarise the idea on a hexagonal post-it note;
- The post-it is then placed on a flip-chart sheet or white-board;
- We will keep going until the lists are exhausted.
We can use different hexagon colours to highlight later questions or different types of answers needed. An individual can pass if they have exhausted their ideas. If it is also clear that there is sufficient information on the white board the group can agree to stop.
- The participants come forward to group together two or more related hexagons. The participants can articulate the relation between the chosen hexagons. Although this is not necessary.
- Proceeding throughout the hexagons on the board clusters of hexagons emerge. The process will stop or dry up after a while, with anything from 5 to 10 clusters on the board. Occasionally a cluster will emerge with only one hexagon in it but this is no problem. It may indicate an emerging problem.
- In a normal session 5-10 main clusters will emerge with up to seventy post-it notes.
Example white board hexagon brainstorming
Naming the clusters
- The facilitator runs through some of the items in the clusters and asks the group for a suitable name for the cluster;
- You need to keep the name suggestions more abstract rather than concrete. It helps by not inadvertently stereotyping what the clusters mean;
- Finally the facilitator can summarise the whole picture by setting the various clusters in relation to each other in one brief thumbnail sketch or story.
- This sketch will aim to distil the complexity of 30-60 items into a few coherent sentences.
If it is necessary you can include a round of priority voting on issues/goals/actions. Give the participants 10 points that they can use to prioritise their important issues across the clusters. Then consolidate these votes into short medium and long term actions.
- You can also score the issues/goals/actions on different criteria such as: feasibility and effectiveness or expected benefits and expected effort.
What are the inputs and outputs of this process?
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