G5 — Using Small Group Carousels for Collective Idea Generation

[This is a guest blog article by Bruce Britton. Please see his introduction in the previous blog post.]

During a recent training course on ’Reflective Practice’ that I facilitated for the Asian Development Bank and invited guests I used a technique that enables groups to work together, record their ideas and build on each others’ contributions. I know the technique as ‘Small Group Carousel’ and it involves dividing a task into stages, allocating each stage to a small group, asking each group to list out their ideas then move on to each of the other lists, discussing the ideas that are already there and adding their own ideas. The groups move round each list until they arrive back at their original list but this time with the other groups’ contributions added.

This is how we used the Small Group Carousel technique on the course. First of all I introduced ‘Bob’ who needed our help (see figure below). I explained that Bob’s challenge was to develop a good practice guide on Reflective Practice. The task seemed to me to divide into three stages – before, during and after – so participants divided into three groups with each group taking responsibility for generating ideas on one of the three stages. Each group was given a different coloured marker pen to note their ideas on a flipchart sheet.

After about ten minutes the groups were asked to move on to the next stage, so those working on the ‘before’ stage moved on to the ‘during’ stage; those who had worked on the ‘during’ stage moved to the ‘after’ stage, and so on. The groups then read through the ideas they found on the flipchart sheet and added their own ideas, or annotated the existing ideas. They were not allowed to delete ideas but could question or comment on those that were already written on the flipchart. After about five minutes they were asked to move on again and add to the ideas on the third flipchart (which by this time already had the ideas of two groups written on it). Finally, the groups were asked to move to the sheet that they had started and to read and discuss the collective thoughts and ideas of all three groups.

Here are the ideas generated for each stage:

Note that each group used different colored pens (black, blue and green) enabling everyone to see how each group built on the ideas of each other.

You can see that each group has not only generated new ideas but annotated those written by other groups. This provided a rich amount of information to discuss. The next stage was to negotiate overlaps, delete ideas that everyone agreed were not suitable, and reach consensus about what should be involved at each stage. Using different coloured pens made it easier to remember which group had written which comments.

The outcome of the carousel process is a collaboratively produced and owned set of ideas that draws on the collective experience of those participating. The dynamics of the process makes it easier for individuals to contribute (because work groups are smaller) and generates ideas that both build on and challenge earlier ideas. The technique can be adapted in many ways and used in a range of settings from team meetings to peer assists.

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