IAF Methods

Convergence: Clustering in Columns

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6 - 40 20 - 50

The convergence part of a workshop. These instructions are for very large groups generating hundreds of ideas.

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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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  • Bid white board
  • sticky wall or blank wall that sheets of paper can be put on.
  • Large cards, sticky tack, wide markers
  • paper or post-its (A4 (8"x 11") or A5 (8" x 5") sheets for the size of group, per expected number of ideas)


Facilitator personality fit: helps to be able to see patterns in order to help the group see patterns


Types of participants: any

Pre-Work Required:

Brainstorm answers to a focus question -- individually and then in small groups

Decide the organizing principle -- usually based on the focus question that was used to brainstorm the ideas

1. See the form at the bottom of the attachment and prepare a wall, white board or sticky wall in this format. The number of columns depends on the number of items. This one has 12 and can handle up to 50 ? 150 or more items. Up to 15 columns can handle up to 200 items. When there are more than 250 items consider using the alternative approach.

2. The number of items, the number of people and whether or not you use teams all determine how the workshop will be done. These procedures assume that there are 10 to 15 people not working in teams and each person has generated 20 items. This is from 200 to 300 ideas. Many of these will be duplicates. About 60 will be unique, and after that there will be significant overlap.

3. The brainstorming exercise has asked people to put each idea on one sheet of paper or post-it (We use A4 (8"x 11") or A5 (8" x 5") sheets for this size of group)



This is a standard way of organizing similar ideas into clusters.

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

We are going to cluster these by similar actions. ("Similar actions" may be the organizing principle. It could also be similar elements of a vision, similar strategic directions, similar root causes, etc., based on the product needed and the focus question that catalyzed the brainstorm)


  1. Explain the process and ask for the two most concrete or specific items from each person (the type of idea asked for varies depending on the type of workshop. You can ask for the best, most creative, the most important, etc.). The intent is to get a wide diversity of answers.  You may use two rounds to get these. 
  2. You should have about 15-30 cards.  Reading them out loud, put them randomly across the bottom of the wall.  
  3. Ask the group to name 2 that are similar (referring to the organizing principle), and put them together under one symbol. Check for more than one nod and no terribly worried expressions.  Get at least 4 pairs before you add extras to the clusters.  When you have 4-5 pairs, give the group permission to add extras OR name new clusters.  
  4. Ask that each person send up 2 cards that are the most different from any of those up now. (This will help determine the breadth of ideas present in the room.)  Cluster these.
  5. Follow the same process as 3 and 4.
  6. About 60 cards are up. If necessary ask for the most different again. And now you should have 90 ideas on the board.
  7. You may go through the columns and give them a one or two word holding title.
  8. If it seems that most of the ideas are up go to step 13, otherwise repeat 4 and 5 again.
  9. If it looks like most of the unique ideas are now on the board you can move much faster. Ask everyone to put the symbol of the column (cluster) on each of his or her cards. If they think their card does not fit into a cluster put a question mark on it. If they think it goes into two or more clusters put a question mark on it.
  10. Ask how many question marks there are. If there are a few ask that all of them be sent up to you. Select a card and ask the group which cluster they think the card goes into. Several things can happen. A new cluster can be created. The card goes into an existing cluster. The card actually has two or more ideas and it can be split into parts. The different parts can create a new cluster or go into existing clusters. Normally, they go into an existing cluster.
  11. Ask people to recheck the symbols on their cards, if new clusters have been created.
  12. Put up all the remaining cards (or ask everyone to put their own up).
  13. Now check the size of the clusters.
    1. If a cluster has only one or two cards you have to ask if it should go with some other cluster. It may not but normally it does.
    2. If a cluster is very much bigger than any other cluster, you need to ask if it does not need to be broken up into two or more clusters.
  14. Now is the time to name. 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.
  15. Go through the columns 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. Make sure the names answer the focus question. 


A conversation on the results is helpful to create a resolve.  When the process is done thank the group and go to the next step.


These procedures are best done with a large number of ideas 60 - 200. Naturally the more ideas the more time required.


Follow-Up Required: the closing of the workshop or next steps

Usual or Expected Outcomes: Agreed categories of ideas, new insights into the consensus of the group

Potential pitfalls: Vague brainstorm answers, shifting the organizing principle so the clusters do not answer the focus question

How success is evaluated: Agreed to clusters of ideas


Derived from: ICA's ToP methods

History of Development: Variations of this process were being done in the early 1960's by the ICA, In the summer of 1971 these procedures were written out in a simpler form. They went through various changes and adaptations for community and business planning process. This draft was created in 2005.

Alternative names: Organizing or Gestalting

Comments (1) ( 5.0  avg / 1 ratings)

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  • This process can be extraordinary to help a group see patterns in their ideas. It is based on seeing similarities, not on agreement or on arguing differences. With a large group, it takes a skilled facilitator to make sure everyone is participating.

    over 3 years ago