IAF Methods

Assumption Articulation

by for . Last edit was over 2 years ago
60 - 180 11 - 25
Surfacing and understanding assumptions made about a problem
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To bring to awareness assumptions being made about the situation in a problem solving process and to check the validity of assumptions being made in the process. Assumptions that are not valid can be dropped or changed.


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    Setting: Flipcharts, markers, tables set in small teams.

    Number of participants: 11-25

    Types of participants: any

    Time needed: 1 - 3 hours depending on the skill of the group and the difficulty of the problem.

    Preparation: Take the list of types of assumptions in the attachment and make a flipchart of it.


    1. Bringing to awareness the assumptions about the problem and the situation in which the problem operates, is an often overlooked but important process in the problem solving process.
    2. Assumptions are always present and necessary.
    -- a. They set limits on the problem and potential solutions.
    -- b. They reflect operating values,
    -- c. They simplify the problem.
    3. Assumptions are self-imposed and not imposed by the situation.
    4. Once assumptions are articulated then we can ask each assumption; "Is it necessary?"  "Is it appropriate?"
    Surfacing Assumptions
    5. Write out a clear and as detailed as possible statement of the problem.
    6. Write the focus question in the centre of a flipchart paper.
    -- a. List all the aspects of the problem.
    -- b. List all the constrains caused by the problem.

    7. Use at least one of the following approaches to bring assumptions about this problem to awareness:

    (1) Ask individuals to list 10 assumptions that we are making about the problem.
    Put up all of the unique assumptions on a white board or flipchart paper.
    (2) Put up the list on the last page (see below). You can have the group create their own list. Ask if this reminds us of any other assumptions that should be examined. Put these on the flip-chart of assumptions.
    (3) Look at the focused question, its aspects and constraints. List assumptions being made with them.

    8. Examining Assumptions
    Assign groups to examine the assumptions:
    -- a. Write out the assumption as a sentence.
    -- b. Ask is this assumption needed to do the project?
    -- c. Ask if it is not necessary is it suitable?
    -- d. Prepare a report to the larger group.
    9. Have groups report their conclusions.
    10. Discuss particularly those that are being recommended to be changed.

    Note:  There are 3 separate ways of surfacing assumptions in this workshop. Marked (1), (2) and (3).


    Follow-Up Required: The problem solving process.

    Usual or Expected Outcomes: Two lists of assumptions: those that will be used and those that will be changed or discarded.

    Potential pitfalls: Ignoring or leaving unexamined basic assumptions


    Source: Robert Harris

    Alternative names: Surfacing Assumptions

    Comments (1) ( 4.0  avg / 1 ratings)

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    • This can be very powerful to surface unexamined assumptions. The facilitator needs to be clear about what an assumption might be so they can keep the group on track. Assumptions are sometimes hard to see -- they seem obvious to the person who has them.

      about 3 years ago