Convergence: Symbol Gestalt

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Alternative names: 
Organizing using symbols, clustering using symbols
Level of process: 
Method category: 
Intent or purpose: 
To identify similar ideas and to put them together and to create a pattern based on an agreed to set of values.
Used as component of: 
This is a form of convergence and so follows idea generating.
Types of Participants: 
Optimal amount of time needed: 
1 hour
Usual or Expected Outcomes: 
This should produce a list of cluster titles.
Level of participation: 
Ideal Conditions: 
This is best done when time is short and the issue are not to complex.
Level of Difficulty to Facilitate: 
Facilitation skills required
Setting and Materials: 
This method uses lists of ideas on a white board or on flipcharts so that all of the ideas can be seen.
Resources Needed: 
Pre-Work Required: 
during the idea generating stage the list should have a left hand margin large enough for numbers and symbols to be next to each idea.

1. This is another standard way of organizing similar ideas into clusters (See Convergence: Clustering in Columns).
2. The idea behind this is that we will develop a pattern from the list of ideas that we have created.
3. We are going to organize these by similar actions. ("Similar actions"? is the organizing principle. It could be similar elements of a vision, similar strategic directions, similar root causes, etc.)
1. This technique uses flipchart sheets. When the brainstorm is done all of the ideas are listed on a flipchart A little space needs to be available on the left side of the lists of ideas. This is to put the symbol in. This is a bit faster that the Random Cluster and the Cluster in Columns techniques. We use it in workshops that are pretty simple and when there is not much time.
2. This method is normally used for a small number of items say from 10 to 50. This method rarely uses team. These procedures assume that there are 5 people and each person has generated 10 items. This is from 50 ideas. Many of these will be duplicates. We think that from 1/3 to ? will be unique.
3. The brainstorming exercise has asked people to write their ideas on a sheet of paper and not on separate sheets of paper or post-its. The ideas are then recorded on a flipchart or white board in list format and numbered.
4. Explain the process to the group.
5. Start at the first one on the list and put a symbol next to it. (√ * + - = x Δ φ θ α β #, etc.)
6. Ask the group which other items in the list are the same as this one. Put the same symbol next to them.
7. Go to the next unmarked item on the list and repeat the process with a new symbol. Sometimes an item may have more than one mark.
8. Keep doing this until you have marked all the items listed.
9. Now is the time to name. Have another flipchart available. Put the first symbol at the top of the page and read the items that have this symbol next to them. Ask what is a title for this cluster?
10. We use a structured approach to naming. We might use a three-word title with two adjectives and one noun such as, STANDARDIZED REPORTING PROCEDURES. In this case it is a hope. It can be an action then the structure would be verb, adjective, and noun such as, PUBLISH INTERNAL NEWSLETTER.
11. Go through the clusters and ask the group for names. We usually go with a very obvious one that should be easy to do. We then move to the most difficult ones and finally, the middle hard ones.

1. When the process is done thank the group and go to the next step.

1. It is also known as organizing or gestalting.
2. It is best done with a small number of ideas 10 - 50. Naturally the more ideas the more time required.

How flexible is the process?: 
Follow-Up Required: 
Next step of the workshop
File attachments: 
Microsoft Office document icon Symbol_Clustering.doc43 KB
Derived from: 
ToP Methods of the Institute of Cultural Affairs.
History of Development: 

This was used in the mid 1960's by the Institute of Clutural Affairs

Selected publications: 
Jenkins, Jon C. (1996). The International Facilitator?s Companion, digiTAAL, Groningen, The Netherlands.<p> Spencer, L. (1989). Winning Through Participation, Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt Publishing. <p> Stanfield, B. (2002), for The Canadian Institute of Cultural Affairs, The Workshop Book: From Individual Creativity to Group Action, British Columbia: New Society Publishers.<p> Wilson, P. H., Harnish, K. & Wright, J. (2003). The Facilitative Way, TeamTech Press, Shawnee Mission, KS.
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