Let’s take an example. Imagine you want to have a conversation about future meetings in a large team or organization with a view to – no surprise here – improving them. You likely have opinions about meetings and how they need to improve in the future. All well and good; but in order to get others on board with this change, you need to explore their opinions about meetings and what improvement might look like. So you decide on a quick and easy way to explore what is and what could be.

On A3 sheets around the room, you have converted some statements about meetings into spectrums. On one, for example, is a spectrum with two axes. At one end of the y-axis it reads: “We always get the task done” and the other end it reads “We never get the task done”; and on the x-axis: “We always feel great about the result” and at the other end “We rarely feel great about the result”. On another sheet, you might have a spectrum related to the quality and quantity of participation. On others, a grid question addresses the amount of time spent in different thinking modes (with the thinking modes – critical, creative, etc. – as the column headers and % brackets in the rows – 0-25%, 25-50%, etc.) and a multiple-choice question is about the efficiency of time spent (with different rows from not efficient to very efficient).

With your spectrums in place, you give participants sticky dots and invite them to tour the room independently, placing their sticky dots in appropriate places on the spectrums of various formats. In the first instance, they should place their sticky dots to describe ‘what is’. Next, either using the same spectrum or an identical one stuck on the same board, repeat the exercise but this time using sticky dots of a different shape or colour to describe ‘what could/should be’.

Once everyone has contributed, it’s time to look at the results. You could choose to do this in plenary, but I recommend taking it a step further. Divide the group up into a number of smaller groups (corresponding to the number of spectrums) and provide them with a flipchart template to complete. Give each one spectrum and ask them to complete the template: (1) briefly describe the results; (2) analyze / suggest reasons for the results / assumptions behind them; and then (3) suggest how to get from ‘what is’ to ‘what could/should be’. Allow them 15 minutes to do this work, and then have each group report back to the rest, providing opportunity for others to then react and provide additional ideas.

This process is a great way of generating and quickly analyzing large amounts of information in a highly interactive, participatory way. The outputs are very visual, making great reference material throughout the event that follows. It is really valuable for clarifying perspectives on what is and what could/should be, the direction that the group want to head in, as well as beginning the conversation about how to make change in the desired direction. Try it and let us know how you get on.

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