BRAINSTORM NOTES FOR THE PARTICIPANTS
by Phil Bartle, PhD
The facilitator may read this aloud to the participants. This may be handed out prior to the session for participants to read it in preparation
The Rules of the Game:
The "brainstorm session" is like a game. It is not a competitive game in which the desire is for an individual is to win. It is a co-operation game in which the desire is for the group as a whole to win.
As in any game, there are rules. These rules are artificial and temporary. In the game of football, for example, there are rules that the ball must stay within the lines of the football field. (If the ball goes outside the lines, for example, the play of the game is suspended until the ball can be brought back, in a particular manner, to within the boundaries). Football game rules are not the rules of real life, and are enforced only during the time of the football game.
For the brainstorm to achieve its purpose, therefore, it is necessary for you, as a participant, to understand and observe the game rules during the game. The rules of the brainstorm session are few and simple. Sometimes, during the excitement of the play, they might be forgotten. The facilitator has the responsibility at such times to remind the group to adhere to the rules.
One basic ground rule during a brainstorm session is that the facilitator asks the questions. These questions are intended to guide you and the other participants through the process. You and the other participants, as a group, are responsible for choosing the answers (leading to group decisions, not individual decisions). By asking the questions, the role of the facilitator is to focus on the topics at hand, and assist the group decision-making process.
The most important ground rule during a brainstorm session is that there is to be no cross talk and criticism. When the facilitator asks a question, each and every participant is invited to make a suggestion. When any participant makes a suggestion, no other participant may make a comment about that suggestion. Remember that this rule applies only to the brainstorm session, not to real life. (We also do not follow football rules outside the game in real life). Notice that the facilitator will also not comment on, to criticize or to give feedback on any suggestion. The facilitator will only write the suggestion up on the board.
This rule is important. If you feel that any other suggestion by a participant is unacceptable, partially of completely wrong, practice patience; do not respond to that person's suggestion, do not comment upon it, do not criticize it, provide no feedback about it. You are entitled, however, to make any suggestion, even one which contradicts what has already been suggested, and the facilitator will also write your suggestion on the board.
The job of your facilitator is to maintain focus. You may be tempted to make comments related to the discussion at hand, perhaps shifting to a tangent. Discipline yourself to address your suggestions to the whole group, through the facilitator. This will help the group and will help the brainstorm session to be more efficient and effective in reaching group decisions.
Brainstorm techniques can be modified and applied in many situations and to many types of topics. The overall purpose of this series of community management training modules is capacity building and community empowerment. The topics on which your facilitator will focus, therefore, are related to that overall purpose.
The facilitator will begin by asking what are the group's (or community's) main problems. You will, like all the other participants, be invited to make a suggestion which the facilitator will then record up on the board. It should be the most crucial one for the group (or community).
You might wish to suggest that the biggest problem of the community is that there is no dance hall.. The facilitator will not disagree or agree with you; simply record your suggestion up on the board. Some people may want to disagree with you, but there is no time in a brainstorm session for discussion and argument. Other participants may say there is inadequate transportation, others say there is not enough safe water, others may say disease is far too high, or that there is too much poverty. The facilitator will not judge any of them. The whole group, not any individual or faction, has the responsibility, aided by the facilitator, to rank all the listed problems in order of priority.
When the problems are prioritized by the group (ie listed in order of importance to the group), the facilitator will then explain that the priority or number one "goal" of the group is the solution to the number one problem.
A goal is a very general thing that is desired. It is not specific or measurable. The next task of the facilitator is to help the group translate the general goal into a set of specific and measurable objectives. (See the handout SMART for a list of characteristics of objectives). This aspect of the brainstorm is specific to community management training and may not be part of other kinds of brainstorm sessions where the topics differ.
When the group has determined its objectives, it has answered the first of the four key management questions:
Those four questions from the essential heart of management, and therefore of community capacity building (which is why they are chosen as the topics of these brainstorm sessions).
In these series, the brainstorm session is used as a participatory tool for answering these four questions as a group, to minimize their being answered by an individual or a faction within the whole group or outside the community. Answering the questions is what constitutes taking the decisions about what community actions to undertake, and lead to ways to organize in order to undertake them.
A Brainstorm Session:
© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle