Facilitation Friday #15: Tools for Exploring Options

Effective facilitation helps groups make better decisions.  Better decisions usually result from a thoughtful consideration of diverse perspectives. Facilitators can use simple process tools to help make individuals' views public and to facilitate a more thorough examination of their implications.  Here are a few tools I frequently use in my own efforts.

Factor Analysis: An easy technique for quickly exploring the breadth of issues related to an individual question is to identify factors that (1) impede or (2) enhance progress for the question at hand.  These could be brainstormed verbally or you could have individuals note factors on Post-Its, post them into the two categories (make a flipchart page or two for each category), allow everyone to scan the submissions, and then begin facilitating conversation. A variation would be to label the two flipcharts Pain and Gain and ask individuals to brainstorm Pain Points (what problems/pain are people experiencing) and Gain Points (what would people most like to gain/achieve).

Futures Wheel: A variation on the Factor Analysis approach is the Futures Wheel in which you place the core issue or idea in a center circle, identify critical questions related to it in the next ring of circles, then place possible ideas or answers for those questions in subsequent circles.  This approach again helps participants rapidly identify the critical questions and to then discuss and capture key ideas or answers for each one. 

Help Me Understand: Another option is an exercise called Help Me Understand from the book Gamestorming  and based on work in The Facilitator’s Guide toParticipatory Decision-Making.  For this exercise, put up five flipchart pages and label each one with one of the following: Who? What? When? Where? How?  Ask individuals to post as many questions as they have related to the meeting or workshop topic, starting each question with one of the five words and then posting their questions on the appropriate flipchart.  You can then begin facilitating discussion. 

Matrix Discussion: Often we can identify a few key categories related to the core question being explored.  If you see this to be true for your efforts, you could create a four-quadrant matrix, label each quadrant with one of the key categories or questions, and then have people post ideas they might have for any or all of the quadrants.  You’d then facilitate discussion of each quadrant. The sample quadrant from Gamestorming illustrates this approach.

Brandy Agerbeck, Loosetooth.com
Six Thinking Hats: Many facilitators find using Edward deBono's Six Thinking Hats to be a useful tool when participants have a specific idea or proposal to evaluate.  Each hat is associated with a specific question/line of thinking. As facilitator, you focus individuals so they only offer contributions/thinking related to one hat (line of thinking) at a time.  Facilitating this "parallel thinking" as de Bono calls it, allows more perspectives to be gathered in significantly less time than simply letting individuals react to the proposed idea however they see fit.  Once insights have been gathered from this process, you should then facilitate open discussion.

A note about any of these options:   
While these options have been presented as something you would do simultaneous with all the participants in your workshop or meeting, you could easily divide people into smaller groups for any or all of the exercise.  Example:  You decide to use the Futures Wheel and have all participants collectively identify the core issues related to the topic at hand.  You then assign pairs or small groups one of the issues and give them sufficient time to create the Futures Wheel for their issue.  Each group reports out (or all the Futures Wheels are posted and people mill about and read on their own) followed by large group facilitated discussion.

Also, while use of these tools has been described for in-person gatherings, each tool can usually work well in an online workspace in which participants have access to virtual whiteboards.

Need more tools?  Check out the website for Gamestorming,  the excellent Bootcamp Bootleg (PDF) from the Stanford d school students, or the Graphic Guides® from the Grove company.

What are other tools or techniques you've used to explore options and make better decisions?