Ellis Planning Associates draws from various community engagement and participatory planning approaches.   A few of these methods are described here.

Consensus Workshop Method/Modified Delphi Technique

This method is used when there is a need to generate group creativity in a short amount of time, to catalyze integrated and strategic thinking, and/or to build team consensus.  It can be very effective in not only identifying program strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats, but it also generates consensus on priorities and how to make decisions.

The process is centered on a workshop question or topic for which the workshop content and product are a response.  Once the question is defined, the full group engages in the following steps, utilizing a “sticky wall” which displays all participant responses:

1. Set the Stage:  The group begins by discussing the topic for a few minutes by engaging in a short Focused Conversation (see below).
2. Brainstorm:  Participants individually list answers to the workshop question, one idea at a time, on separate cards with large markers.  Everyone is asked to select their top idea and pass it up.
3. Cluster:  The first round of ideas is posted on the sticky wall and the group is engaged in clustering ideas that clearly go together.  Participants are then asked to pass up the remaining cards in their possession that are different from the clusters already created.  The process is repeated.
4. Naming:  In this step, we talk through the clusters and gain consensus on a 3-5 word name or title which answers the workshop question, and repeat for the remaining clusters.
5. Resolve:  Finally, we review all the title cards and confirm that the group has answered the workshop question.  This is followed by a discussion of next steps.

Focused Conversation Method/ORID

The Focused Conversation provides structure and direction to group discussions when there is a need to collect or analyze data; generate ideas; reflect on important issues, accomplishments, or failures; discuss tough issues; explore levels of consensus that may already exist in a group; or move a discussion to a productive end.

The structure of a Focused Conversation is extremely powerful in facilitating group reflection.  This method is used to engage participants in reviewing findings from data collection following a short discussion of the strengths and limitations of the data.  Its structure is referred to as  “ORID” and generally pursues this flow of questioning:

Objective:  What do you see here?  What is happening?  (Getting the Facts, Sensory Impressions)

Reflective:  Does anything in this data surprise you?  What information is most clear to you?  What seems pretty “same old, same old”?  What comes to you as new or fresh?  (Personal Reactions, Associations, Emotions, Images)

Interpretive:  What themes seem to be emerging from these findings?  What is most relevant to the program/to the funder/to the community?  What challenges will have to be overcome?  What are some of the important decisions we will have to make?  (Meaning, Values, Significance, Purpose, Implications)

Decisional:  What will this mean for the organization?  What are our next steps?  (Resolution, Action, Future Direction, Next Steps)

Nominal Group Process

The Nominal Group Process is a technique for setting goals, identifying problems or issues, obtaining suggestions for solving problems, or planning programs for an organization. It is an effective method for large groups, such as community forums or Town Hall meetings.  The basic steps include:

1. Form groups of five to eight participants.  (In a focus group setting, we would have people with similar backgrounds/roles/interests in the same group.)  Have the people introduce themselves to everyone in their group.  Each group selects a group leader and a recorder.  The group leader gives the participants a written statement of the issue. The issue statement should be open-ended such as:

“The most important concerns in facing the XXXX Program are . . .” or “The most critical strengths of the XXXX Program are . . .”

2. Individual ideas.  Participants silently write down their ideas on index cards without discussion with others.
3. Round robin sharing.  Each group proceeds around the table with each person in turn sharing one idea from his/her list. No discussion other than clarification is permitted. The recorder writes the idea on a flipchart for everyone in the group to see. Continue reading ideas around the table until all ideas have been recorded on the flipchart.
4. Discussion and Clarification. After all the ideas have been recorded, encourage each group to discuss the ideas they have recorded, comparing, clarifying, and defending their statements.
5. Prioritizing.  Each group needs to choose three to five top priority ideas. Groups are free to devise their own means for coming to a consensus on the top priorities. Members may want to “vote” using small round self-adhesive labels or by assigning points for votes, i.e., five points for a first place vote, three points for second, and one point for third.

If there is more than one group, each group leader reports to the entire group what their priorities are. Some clarification and discussion may be necessary.

The entire group needs to select its top five priorities. We may want to use the following voting system:

Write each group’s top priorities on a flipchart. Tape the flipchart to a wall where everyone can get to it. Give everyone five round self-adhesive dots. The dots are votes to indicate their priorities. Participants put the dots next to the statements they want to vote for. One to five dots can be used on a statement.

6. Tally the votes. This should bring a sense of closure to the Nominal Group process.

Participatory Data Analysis Method

Also called “Discovery Zones,” this method utilizes Focused Conversation/ORID in its application and is a way to foster high level input on how to interpret the data when there are more than 2-3 data sources and a lot to cover.  The steps are as follows:

1. Data Packets.  Data is organized into separate packets on separate tables, either by data source, domain, community sector etc.  For example, there might be separate packets for school data, law enforcement data, hospital data, etc.  The data is not interpreted or analyzed at this point.  It is simply organized in a way that is accessible to participants.
2. Overview of Data.  We begin with a short review of the data that has been collected and some clarification on how it was collected and its strengths and limitations.
3. Small Group Work/ORID.  Next, we break into small groups, one data packet per group.  Each group goes to a table and reviews what is in the packet there.  On flip charts, they then record their responses to ORID questions (see examples above).
4. Full Group Review of Responses.  Depending on the time available and the size of the full group, small groups will rotate to the remaining tables for a few minutes at a time to review what prior groups have done and add their input to the ORID questions.  If time is limited, the full group simply roams the room to review all the flip charts.  In either case, people are encouraged to ask questions for clarification and engage in a general discussion to attain consensus on how the data is to be interpreted in a Findings Report.


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