Crawford's Slip Writing Method
Generating Ideas From Many Contributors
How do you unlock the collective knowledge and ideas of your team, your department or even your whole organization? And how do you do this in a way that everyone (not just those with the biggest egos) gets heard?
The Crawford Slip Method is a simple yet effective type of brainstorming that gives the opinions of all team members equal weight, however quiet they are. In fact, you probably will have encountered this way of generating ideas and solutions even if you haven't called it the Crawford Slip Method.
Invented in the 1920s by Dr C.C. Crawford, Professor of Education at the University of Southern California, the method simply involves collating input from people on slips of paper (nowadays often on sticky notes).
Not only does this help you generate a wide variety of solutions, it also helps people get involved and feel that their contributions are valued. Writing rather than speaking during the session can have added advantages: it helps people to think freely without interruption, and it levels the playing field between quieter people and more outspoken participants.
More than this, as peoples individual contributions are brought together into groupings of similar ideas, it gives you a feel for the overall "popularity" of each idea.
The Crawford Slip Method and other creative brainstorming techniques focus on generating ideas and contributions, rather than how to use these to create a group outcome. If, however, your main need is to achieve consensus on a particular issue, consider using the Delphi Method or the Modified Borda Count instead. These are useful methods for achieving a robust group consensus on controversial issues.
How to Use the Tool
- Before the session, think about how you'll present the problem to be solved to your team, how you'll analyze contributions, and how you'll give feedback to participants.
- Be ready to give each contributor paper slips or Post-It Notes on which to write their ideas. Depending on the challenge, you will probably ask each person to contribute between 5 and 25 ideas each, so have a good supply of slips to hand!
Briefing and Facilitation
- At the start of the meeting or workshop, introduce the issue to be brainstormed clearly. Be specific but keep it as simple as possible. Where appropriate use images, film clips or visual recordings to illustrate the problem to be solved and to get people thinking. Tell contributors how their input will be used and what feedback they will receive.
- Ask contributors to write down as many ideas and suggestions as they can, with each idea or suggestion being written on a separate slip of paper. Encourage people to keep contributing until ideas run dry, ideally getting between 5 and 25 ideas from each. You will know it's time to draw the session to a close when most people have stopped writing.
Organize the contributions into logical groupings and similar ideas. How you do this will depend on the challenge to be solved.
For example, if you are looking for suggestion to improve customer service, you could map the key activities in the customer service process, and then organize people's suggestions according to these key activities.
And record the number of slips containing each suggestion, so you have an idea of the "popularity" of each suggestion.
- It can take weeks or even months to actually design and implement specific solutions based on the ideas generated. However, you should aim to provide feedback promptly at or soon after the session, to everyone involved.
Whether or not the ideas will ultimately be implemented, prompt feedback shows people that contributions are valued and being taken seriously. Remember to follow-up with more feedback when you actually implement resulting solutions and improvements.
It can be good to analyze results and present feedback during the workshop itself. Well-planned and rapid feedback can be very impressive and powerful, and so help people to feel that your workshop or event was successful.
However, don't keep people standing around idly while you collate feedback.