Organizing Information and Ideas Into Common Themes
(Also Known as the K-J Method or Affinity Charts)
Think about the last time you tried to make sense of a large number of ideas.
You may have felt overwhelmed by all of the suggestions, or perhaps you struggled to organize them and make sense of them. You may even have worried that you'd missed vital details, because you "couldn't see the wood for the trees."
In situations like this, you can use affinity diagrams to organize information and ideas, and see how they're connected. We'll look at how to create affinity diagrams in this article and infographic.
About the Tool
Japanese anthropologist Kawakita Jiro originally developed the affinity diagram – also known as the K-J Method or the affinity chart – in the 1960s.
When you use an affinity diagram, an example of which is shown in figure 1 below, you group unorganized ideas into meaningful themes. You can then see the connections between them.
Figure 1 – An Affinity Diagram
How to Use the Tool
Here is a step-by-step guide to creating affinity diagrams. As we work through the steps below, we'll use the example of organizing ideas from a brainstorming session.
Step 1: Transfer Ideas Onto Sticky Notes
Write down every piece of information that you need to organize onto a separate sticky note.
When you are sure that you have written everything down, stick your notes onto a wall or table. Don't worry about organizing information at this stage – you'll do this next.
Example: Figure 2
Step 2: Sort Ideas Into Themes
Your next step is to sort all the ideas into groups. Start small – look for just two ideas that are similar in some way, and group them together on the table or wall. Then, look for another two ideas that relate to one other, and so on. (Where ideas are essentially the same, stack them up on top of one another – this will simplify your diagram.)
Then, cluster these small groups into larger ones, so that you start to gather similar ideas by theme.
Keep in mind that you might have some ideas that don't fit into any group at all. That's fine – you can look at them later.
Example: Figure 3
Step 3: Title Groups
Now, "title" each grouping with a theme label – some people call these "affinity cards" or "header cards."
Create a short, three- to five-word description for the relationship, write this description on a sticky note, and place it at the top of the group that it describes. You can also use "subheader" cards, where necessary, to group sub-themes within a major theme.
If you have "loner cards," you can give them their own theme.
Example: Figure 4
Step 4: Develop Solutions
Having developed your affinity diagram, you'll find it much easier to see how ideas fit together. Just by looking at it, you can quickly spot projects and sub-projects that you may need to run.
You can see our infographic on affinity diagrams here:
Affinity diagrams are useful for organizing large amounts of information into common themes – for example, you can use them to organize ideas coming from a brainstorming exercise.
They help you see connections between ideas, which, in turn, can help you explore possible ways forward.