One of the unique features of MindGenius mind mapping software is it’s ability to analyse ideas according to categories and to restructure maps or views of those ideas automatically.  This feature is a great way of implementing the consensus workshop method electronically (see previous post on the consensus workshop method). 

The five steps of the consensus workshop (as developed by the Institute of Cultural Affairs) method are:

  1. Set the context – introduce the focus question
  2. Brainstorm the ideas
  3. Cluster the ideas
  4. Name the idea clusters
  5. Review and action.

image Using MindGenius, the focus question become the central topic or idea.




What can we do to improve morale in our office ideas



The ideas are brainstormed, collected and consolidated as they are added to the map.




What can we do to improve morale in our office ideas analysisThe ideas are clustered using categories feature, available from the “Analyze” tab – you can use a default set provided or create your own category group.




From here, create a new map with the ideas clustered by selecting the “Create Category Map”.

What can we do to improve morale in our office - by Category unamed

Using this new map as a basis you can work to name the clusters.  Add the names by editing the level one topics.

As an alternative, once the cluster names are agreed, return to the original map – the one with the brainstormed ideas. From the “Analyze” tab, now select “Edit Categories”.  Amend the categories used in your map, replacing the original identifiers with the cluster names.  Once completed, select “Create Category Map” and this time the resulting cluster map contains the cluster names in the level one topics. 

What can we do to improve morale in our office -named clusters

imageYou could now go on to assign dates and resources to the ideas, creating a simple action plan. 

imageAs part of the documentation step, you can export the map to Excel or Word to provide an additional record of the workshop or to provide the basis for further definition.


You can try this for yourself using MindGenius by clicking this text or the image below and downloading a free trial.

free trial

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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:

  1. Set the context – introduce the focus question
  2. Brainstorm the ideas
  3. Cluster the ideas
  4. Name the idea clusters
  5. Review and action.

What focus q 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.

What brain


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.


What brain cluster 1


Third, the group reviews the list and identifies common threads or clusters. 




What brain cluster sortedThe 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.



What brain cluster named


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.

What brain cluster named 2

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.

Further reading:

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 (ICA series), by R. Brian Stanfield. 

In previous posts I introduced an approach to defining strategy and the action plan that will implement it.  See:

The approach lends itself particularly well to group work in workshops.  Prior to the workshop, individuals or teams each prepare their part of the vision and some initial ideas of what needs to done over a given time period. 

They arrive at a working draft by progressing through a number of stages:

  • answering focus questions
  • identifying key directions
  • entering the details of their emerging vision on a template
  • entering their ideas for an action timetable on another template
  • transferring the template entries to flip charts ready for the workshop.


One idea for a workshop is to invite other managers and experts to help the teams review their initial ideas. 

Vision EGTimetable eg


The pre-prepared flip charts are posted up and everyone encouraged to walk around, understand the content and ask questions. 




New ideas can be logged directly on the flip charts or as PostIts.  This might be broken down into simple steps:

  • Walk around, read and understand the flip charts
  • Ask questions, make challenges and suggest ideas
  • Further review of the annotated vision and timetable
  • Consolidate any cross-team components such as overall headcount, costs and benefits
  • Finish with an open session to identify next actions.


Focus Questions

February 16, 2011

If you work with facilitators sooner or later you will see “Focus Questions” being used to help guide thinking and discussions.  When presented with an issue, it is easy for a group to approach it from many different directions, not all of which will be immediately useful.  By framing the debate as a response to a “Focus Question”, the group are encouraged to pay attention to particular aspects of the problem or its solution.  As is implied, the question provides focus.

“Focus Questions” are often used in workshops but they may also be used as part of the preparation for a meeting or workshop.  They are issued with the workshop brief under a heading such as d“preparation for the workshop”.  Use in this way, “Focus Questions” can help direct the attendees thinking before the meeting itself.  It helps them understand better what the meeting is about, what answers are sought and what not to waste time on.

image When used as meeting preparation, “Focus Questions” may be listed as part of the brief. 

To provide a little imagemore structure, and to help the attendees visualise their response better, it can be useful to present the questions as part of a template that includes space for responses, thoughts and notes.   This can be prepared as simple table, using Excel or Word, say.

“Focus Question” templates can also be presented as a map with lots of space for notes.  The map can be sent as a PDF for the attendees to print, or if they have the appropriate software, such as MindView, it can be sent as file for the participants to complete.  MindView can do either.


If it is important to collate the responses to the questions, using mapping software is a great way to do this – bringing together all the responses against the relevant branches or topics on the map.

This year’s conference – “Paradoxes in Facilitation” – is being held in Helsinki.  It runs from Friday 15th October until Sunday 17th.  Colleagues from all over Europe are attending.

To keep up with what’s happening during the conference, why not visit the conference blog at  Attendees will be posting throughout the event including thoughts, reactions and images.

IAF Europe Conference - Helsinki - 2010






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Weave A Great Meeting?

September 22, 2010


There is a visual tool to aid communication and networking at conferences and within organisations – and it’s far more exciting and useful than a mere delegate list or internal phone directory.


imageIt’s called "Weave" and it lets you build an online view of everyone at your conference, meeting or organisation.

You can include photos, summary biographies, locations, roles, items of interest and, for instance, favourite conversations topics.


imageA visual database is prepared and accessible via the Internet. The list of people may be viewed according to different categories, such as location, interest and speciality.

The idea is to help people "get to know" other people attending the conference or meeting. Armed with this useful information users may find  networking becomes easier, corporate engagement more effective.

imageConference organisers may use the Weave tool to get discussion going before and during the conference.  Online meetings can also benefit as everyone on the call is able to picture the other attendees and know something about them.

  There is an excellent online demo and the main website can be found here.

Strategy Into Action

September 3, 2010

Everyone will tell you that you need a strategy for your business or department – and they are right.  Whether it is “grand” strategy that establishes the direction for your business overall or whether it is a “tactical” strategy designed to effect more specific changes, it’s a good idea to know where you are going and what it will look like when you arrive.

But many strategies fail to deliver.  There are many reasons for this – one being a failure to turn the big ideas into actions that people can work on.  Sometimes there is a plan but it is too grand and too long in the preparation – by the time the actions actually get started the world has changed and they plan doesn’t seem relevant any more.  Or there is a strategy but no clear idea of the directions to follow, no one is responsible and and no obvious place to start.  The momentum generated by the “strategic” thinking soon dissipates.

With just 5 questions it is possible in the space of a few hours to generate a robust action plan that will get you moving on achieving your strategy.  You can do this on your own or with your team, in a meeting or workshop, and with or without a facilitator.

Question 1     What is our focus?

Question 2     What are the key directions we should take?

Question 3     What are the obstacles that are blocking us?

Question 4     What to do to remove the obstacles and achieve what we want?

Question 5     What are the immediate, practical actions we can take?

The focus question defines the overall goal and scope – you might already know the answer and just need to restate it.  The key directions are the themes or areas that if followed will lead to the goal.  The obstacles are the constraints, the blockers that will defeat the plan if not addressed – some of the actions will be focussed on overcoming these.  Other actions will address new things that need to be created or delivered.  Consideration of these should be focussed on short term or very short term timescales – what can we do today, tomorrow, this week, this month that get us following the key directions.  Medium and longer term actions can be logged but will most likely be consider later.  Assign ownership to the key themes and the actions.  Document it all – preferably on a single sheet of paper (see the example). Get started.


In just a few hours you have an action plan.  It won’t be perfect nor will it be complete.  But it will provide a basis on which to move forward.  New or missing actions can be added as each action is completed.  Keep the plan alive, review it regularly, keep adding the next actions that come to mind.

Acknowledgement: The format of the action plan was suggested by examples using the ToP Participatory Strategic Planning method designed by the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA).