The clustering stage of the Consensus Workshop Method is often really challenging, especially to those (most of us) who have been deeply trained to sort and categorize ideas: “Which of these is not like the other?” Somehow the capacity to see new constellations of ideas, a “gestalt” of the detailed ideas into bigger ideas that hold new insight, is a real challenge.
Once I had a participant in a course who could not understand a concept unless he had physically acted it out. Luckily, he sat at the back of the room, so his wild movements as he tried to understand were not too distracting. He could not understand the concept of clustering / gestalt, and asked for help.
So I borrowed a simple children’s puzzle from a colleague, and as the participant put it together, I talked him through the steps as a metaphor for creating a larger picture from a bunch of separate pieces. After we had done that, I realized I didn’t need to physically do that, but using putting together a puzzle as a metaphor as a story to talk through the steps with a group just before clustering their ideas would give them a sense of where we were going with clustering. They could then be somewhat relaxed with the ambiguity as the clusters developed. This has amazingly shortened the time it takes to cluster ideas.
Here is the story as I use it:
Puzzle Story for the Beginning of Clustering
DO this when groups have finished filling in their cards & have them laid out in front of themselves.
Look at the cards in front of you. Imagine that they are all puzzle pieces.
Imagine that you take all your puzzle pieces and throw them in the centre of the table. What do we have? (a mess, the sum of the parts)
Now imagine that you take them all back, and that we are going to put them together. We don’t have the box cover, so we don’t know what we are going to have at the end.
What’s the first thing you do when you put a puzzle together? (find the corners, or the borders)
What do you do next? (find similar colours, patterns, lines that go together)
What happens at the end if you leave a piece out? (a hole in the puzzle, it’s not complete, frustration)
What we are going to do next is like putting together a puzzle for which we don’t have the cover picture.
First we’ll get a few different cards on the wall, then we’ll look for 4-5 similar pairs of answers to the focus question, which is like the border or corner pieces. Then we’ll cluster the rest, a few at a time, looking for similar patterns that answer the focus question.
In the end all the cards will get up here.
Then we will name the parts of the picture we have created.