IAF Methods

Convergence: Symbol Gestalt

by for . Last edit was over 2 years ago
60 + 3 - 20

This is a form of convergence using flipchart and so follows idea generating

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To identify similar ideas and to put them together and to create a pattern based on an agreed set of values.


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  • Markers
  • Flipchart sheets



Setting: This method uses lists of ideas on a white board or on flipcharts so that all of the ideas can be seen.

Ideal conditions: This is best done when time is short and the issues are not too complex.

Pre-Work Required: 

Ask a focus question, and allow individual brainstorming.

When the individual brainstorm is done, go around the group and ask each person to call out an idea -- try to get as many different ones as possible.   List the ideas on a flipchart . During the idea generating stage the list should have a left hand margin large enough to allow for numbers and symbols to be added next to each idea.


This is another standard way of organizing similar ideas into clusters (See Convergence: Clustering in Columns).

The idea behind this is that we will develop a pattern from the list of ideas that we have created.

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., depending on the focus question)


1. This method is normally used for a small number of items, say from 10 to 20. This method rarely uses team sharing of brainstorms. 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.
2. Explain the process to the group.
3. Start at the first one on the list and put a symbol next to it. (√ * + - = x Δ φ θ α β #, etc.)
4. Ask the group which other items in the list are the same as this one. Put the same symbol next to them.
5. 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.
6. Keep doing this until you have marked all the items listed.
7. 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?
8. 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.
9. 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.

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

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


Follow-Up Required: Next step of the workshop

Usual or Expected Outcomes: This should produce a list of cluster titles, the names of patterns of ideas that answer the focus question.


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 Cultural Affairs

Alternative names: Organizing using symbols, clustering using symbols, flipchart consensus workshop method

Comments (1) ( 5.0  avg / 1 ratings)

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  • This process is a great quick process to generate a consensus from a list of diverse ideas.

    over 3 years ago