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.


Often business rules or guidance are required to instruct or advise people on what to do in given circumstances.  It can be difficult to develop these where there are many considerations or options.

imageTo begin to tackle the problem it might be useful to draw up a decision tree and step through all the questions that might need to be asked.  The example here, whether to retain email as records or not, was drawn using bCisive.  A huge tree results.

dtreeHowever, using a print out of the decision tree, analysis reveals there are possibly only 6 scenarios or situations for which criteria are needed.  Here, the bCisive diagram has been annotated with green and red notes to show the scenarios.  Green indicates a “Yes” outcome – an email should be managed as a record – and red indicates a “No”. 

dcriteria From this analysis it was possible to develop a new bCisive diagram, with the scenarios mapped as “Options”, the outcomes or decisions mapped as “Consequences” and additional criteria or questions mapped as “Requirements”.  Note that it was possible to reduce the 6 scenarios to 4 as the decision criteria for 3 of the scenarios were identical.

image A feature of bCisive is the ability to view the diagram as a text outline.  Copying the outline allows it to be pasted into Word or Excel to create a more traditional document.

image The final product – in this case an Excel table – presents the decision making criteria, outcomes and recommended action in a simple, tabular format.

Although this example has been presented as a desktop exercise using software, the approach could just as easily be followed in a meeting or workshop using flipcharts, PostIts and marker pens.

imagePlanning workshops or meetings may seem daunting at first but, as with most things in life, when broken down into a few simple steps it is amazing what can be achieved.

It is absolutely critical to begin with a concise, clear idea of what represents a good outcome from the workshop.  Consider what  the deliverable might be, what that deliverable might look like and what questions to ask to help produce it.

imageWhen you have the answers to these questions, write them down and send them to the attendees as part of the workshop brief.  Remember you are describing the purpose, value and approach to the workshop – not the agenda. You are trying to reassure the attendees that they understand what the workshop is about, what will be expected of them and how they might succeed.


Then plan the workshop in detail.  Break the problem up into a series of questions, then consider how you will tackle each question in turn.  Understand how the answers to these questions maintain the momentum of the workshop and keep building towards the deliverable.  Schedule them, allocating a set time to each.  Remember to top and tail your agenda with an introduction and a close that agrees follow up actions.


The introduction is your final chance to focus the attendees on why they are there, what they are being asked to do and how they will do it.  Avoid going over old ground.  Summarise the briefing you sent out earlier and then get straight down to the first item in the agenda.


And finally, don’t leave the room without summarising what has been achieved and agreeing the immediate next steps.