Brainstorming makes it possible to quickly and with a minimum effort widen one’s horizon about available experiences, ideas and opinions. This method, good for application in groups and in workshops, consists of collecting uncommented ideas or suggestions. Thus it is used especially at the beginning of a meeting or workshop in order to gain an overview of the available experiences or ideas to be built upon.
Brainstorming sessions are useful for solving problems, making product innovations, improving communication patterns, optimizing customer services, scheduling projects, budgeting, etc.
How to go about it?
- Introduce a brainstorming question both orally and in writing on chart paper. Set time limits.
- Invite participants to respond with as many ideas or suggestions as possible, ideally in concise words.
- Refuse any comment on participants' contributions. Emphasize that all ideas are equally valid.
- Record each response on cards or chart paper.
- Group same and related ideas in clusters. Ask "What is missing?"
- Prioritize and analyze the results. Make participants feel the value added of the brainstorming in a bigger context. Decide on further steps.
Experience with Brainstorming
“We used brainstorming meetings with all potentially relevant operational units at SDC to collect comments and additional ideas on a drafted 3-year-plan for partnerships with the private sector. By using this method we aimed at involving a large number of colleagues and a wide range of opinions. Moreover, we also wanted to disseminate the public private partnership concepts, i.e. use this process to make people aware of the topic. For the latter, the brainstorming exercise was very adequate! However, the openness of the method led to the collection of a wide range of often very contradictory comments, and therefore a final paper would have to narrow down the range of opinions again to reflect a minimal common denominator, or present comments in a Annex.”
David Keller, Institutional Partnership Division (2011)
„In the course of a planning workshop for a new country strategy, the team of a SDC cooperation office is faced with questions regarding priorities, trends and challenges that can be observed in the country. For staff that is daily involved in programme implementation on the ground, I noticed, it is challenging to take a step back and broaden its view on the big picture. In such a situation brainstorming can help to collect vague ideas and unstructured thoughts. It is like thinking aloud. Statements are not valued and do not need to be well formulated or synthesised. But still, after some structuring by the facilitator, the vague ideas complement each other to a complete picture. It is motivating for the team to see in the end: ‘Actually, we did know it all from the beginning, and now we can see and read it.’”
Lukas Frey, Eastern and Southern Africa Division (2011)
“Brainstorming not only produces a broad variety of answers, but also identification with the result and solid ownership among the participants. I always take care to never use a brainstorming just for participatory reasons; participants would reject this kind of “activating therapy”.”
Ruth Huber, Deputy Head Employment and Income Division (2007)