Online Brainstorming Tools for Engaging Workshops – Talk versus Tech.

Technology versus Talk- The right balance for effective brainstorming meetings

Is using technology in group activities a conversation killer or can it improve the quality and speed of exchange? Online workshop and business planning tools that allow social collaboration in the workplace remove manual collation but does that now mean we have to operate in a cone of silence? Using sticky notes may be simple and “fun”, but are highly inefficient and manual.

We sometimes hear that a workshop that is full of noise and energy with, it’s of people talking and sharing ideas is fantastic. “This is working so well. Everybody is talking! This is great!” Of course, the extroverts love it… it’s their chance to pulpit their views and declare their thoughts. Yet this type of behaviour can be detrimental to the whole process. Meanwhile, the more thoughtful and observational introverts, the technicians, and the thinkers are given the task of being scribe.

Bringing in technology is often seen as a danger. “We can’t do that…nobody will talk. Nobody will learn and nobody will get a chance to voice their opinions.”  These statements suggest that the art of silence, contemplation, and reflection is a non-productive exercise. Say that to nearly 40% of the population (including business) who are introverts and world leaders like Gandhi, Churchill, and Bill Gates who proclaim their need for solitude. The creative process is often nook based, bean bagged, and chin tapping (as opposed to chin-wagging). In fact, they let their fingers do the talking.

We are often inspired by others externally but learn and reflect internally. Of course, sitting together in complete silence seems just as unnatural. Many of us lie somewhere within this spectrum and draw our inspiration from both what’s around us and what’s inside us.

” Creating a successful workshop is a balanced mix of chatter and capture. 
So what’s the right mix?”

GroupMap has been used in collaborative meetings ranging from workforce issues, improving education, innovation in government, and delivering better business outcomes. Here are 3-time box formats that we have seen work well based on the challenge you face.

The challenge: Complex problems, no right answers
Example question: What’s the world coming to?
The format: Great keynote, lots of pre-reading and preparation, individual lightning speeches, debating and open floor discussion, small group sharing, and capturing of ideas and concerns.
How can technology help: Capture diversity of opinions, look for common issues or concerns. It removes the ego and provides an open and low-risk environment for people to put in their views which creates great fodder for planning and considering perspectives.
Chatter: 50%
Capture: 50%

The challenge: Common problems, lots of “right” answers
Example: What should we focus on in the next 12 months?
The format: Open forum workshops, short keynote, creativity-based activities, small group idea generation, showcasing results, group prioritisation based on audience generated responses.
How can technology help: Fast capturing of issues, peer stimulated idea sharing, group filtering, and consensual decision making.
Chatter: 70%
Capture: 30%

The challenge
: Common problems, a few “right” answers

Examples: Who are our stakeholders in this project?
The format: Focus is on whole group inquiry and confirmation, getting buy-in and action. Brainstorm execution strategies and have small groups discuss and capture potential barriers and solutions.
How can technology help: Used to quickly capture the current landscape and then prioritize key action points based on agreed strategies.
Chatter: 30%
Capture :70%

Do you agree with this mix? What’s your experience and how has technology helped you facilitate better group activities?

Group facilitation technology was never designed to takeover conversation, and it should never be the focal point. It’s part of the reason why we say we are creating conversation maps! If anything it helps to draw the conversation in and focus it on key issues. Once the initial novelty of technology settles, the focus should always be on what the group produces online brainstorming tools or group response tools.


GroupMap Used as a Group Brainstorming Tool Used to Address Future Employment

There are audience response systems and then there are audience “engagement” systems. Sadly, not all problems can be addressed with multiple choice answers.
By moving beyond the simple polling for, the National Association of Graduate Career Advisory Services were able to tackle some big issues facing student work experience and future employment. Here’s how they did it Over 110 Career Professionals were surveyed using GroupMap to identify and rank key barriers for student employment. This was compared to the student responses taken from international and domestic students at Curtin University Careers Centre. This was used to address the gap between student and employer expectations. By using online brainstorming and idea ranking software, the conference group was first asked to write what they thought were the main barriers for work experience and employment. iPads were used to capture responses, visually in real time. Individual unique responses were shared and then aggregated in real time for decision making. The Top 10 issues were identified using a collaborative mind map which used audience consensus and input to indicate consensus. These issues were then ranked against 2 main criteria on a GroupMap 2D chart comprising of: 1.Urgency – How quickly must the problem be addressed due to its impact on employment and work; 2.Influence – How much direct influence can the professional group have in addressing the issue, either directly or through advocacy The top 2 issues were identified based on its ranked position (Highest urgency and highest level of influence). This was done in real time, using the audience’s response to determine the final rankings. Delegates were then divided into 2 groups and set to task brainstorming potential solutions using GroupMap. There were some obvious benefits in using audience response technology:
  • Ideas were “real” and driven by the audience, not pre-made beforehand.
  • Seeing ideas from peers in real time helped stimulate even more thinking
  • Being able to brainstorm independently dramatically increased the number of ideas generated.
  • The choice of maps allowed the group to move from ideation to prioritisation.
  • Individuals could compare their own views to the person sitting next to them, as well as the group’s view.
  • Visual ranking managed information overload
  • Having a conversational map was an excellent tool for leading and focussing discussion on the top solutions on the day.
Delegates were provided with follow up access to maps for post conference deliberations. Over 25 potential actions were produced on the day for relevant institutions to consider in their own settings.

NAGCAS is Australia’s peak professional body for career development in the higher and tertiary education sectors. Results and findings, including a review of GroupMap can be seen in their 2013 March publication. GroupMap is an online group brainstorming and audience response tool that allows individuals to create and share unique responses which are then pulled together in real-time to show the group’s result.