Activities to Draw People In - Sticky Notes For All

Difficulty:  Moderate to High.  (Needs firm facilitation and clear instructions.)
Audience:  People seeking ideas to address a problem or opportunity.
Suggested Time:  1 to 3 hours.

A popular method of visual facilitation is to put sticky notes up on a wall.  This takes many forms, from flowcharts or Value Stream Maps to organisational charts and brainstorming.

It is easy to control the session by being the one who sticks things on the wall, or to be even more in control by writing on the sticky notes and putting them on the wall.  Give it up!  Encourage the participants to share their ideas - by both writing on sticky notes, and putting them on the wall.  Or in some other way making a direct and unfiltered contribution.

Sticky Noting in Action
My father lectures at U3A (University of the Third Age), and in a recent session on Islam he asked people to write on sticky notes what they know about Moslem people and Islam.  He then asked them to put the sticky notes up on the wall, not randomly, but on pieces of butcher's paper with labels like About Rituals; About People; and About Attitudes.  People were encouraged to sort their input under appropriate headings.  (The headings were chosen by the facilitator.  They were relevant to later topics.)

A client of mine (Fitzroy Basin Association) was producing a detailed report capturing the experiences in, and accomplishments of, lots of people's projects.  In this session, 8 people responsible for projects were asked to present for 6 minutes each - telling their audience 1.What we learnt; 2.What we changed; and 3.Where we can go with this.  The audience members were each given sticky notes and asked to write down the answer to the question "What is the key theme?"  They were encouraged to capture as many themes as they could identify.

After the last presentation, the audience became participants.  They put their sticky notes up on the walls - initially randomly, and then  moving them around to group in whatever logical way they could identify.  A group of about 20 people managed to write on 388 sticky notes that over an hour were sorted into 17 groups (or themes).  The themes were given descriptive names (mostly 2-3 word phrases).

We wanted more than just a list of themes.  For each theme we wanted to be able to tell stories.  So the participants were asked to go to a theme, and individually or in groups write a story about real events that explain the theme.

Learnings:  A. There was a high level of trust between the client, participants and facilitator in this session.  This trust was sorely tested as the sticky notes rained down, unable to stick to the painted walls.  Magic tape saved the day, with nearly 388 small lengths of tape being attached while people grimly held onto yellow pieces of not very sticky note - it was a hot day, and the wall had matt paint.  Not a good combination.
                 B. 388 separate pieces of information can be difficult to collate.  The first step was to take them off the wall, in groups, and stick them on butcher's paper.  The butcher's paper was then carefully folded up.  Each note was typed into Excel, and a short summary written to accompany the stories that explain the theme.

This was a great session for many reasons, including engaging all participants in collecting and collating information, and identifying a number of obscure themes that may not have been identified in any other way.  The session was at times a little stressful (raining sticky notes), but overall a pleasure to plan and facilitate.


You may wish to read what others have written about facilitating with sticky notes:

Eric Albertson at Duarte - Advanced Stickynoting
Chiara Ogan at Adaptive Path - How to Run a Concepting Workshop
And finally, a useful trick - Dave Gray at Communication Nation - The Amazing Sticky Note Trick