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Brain writing is an idea-generating method that involves everyone in a group activity. While
encourages a group to generate creative ideas verbally where, without censorship, only the most vocal people tend to participate. Brain writing enables a group to generate ideas and solutions to several problems/issues simultaneously on paper. The group involvement is focused and individualistic, yet it taps into collective input as participants build on each other's ideas.
Brain writing is described by Neill McKee (former Chief, PCIS, UNICEF Bangladesh) with Dr. Hermann Tillman and Dr. Maria Salas in their Visualization in Participatory Programs Manual (1993) used during planning processes for social mobilization and communication in UNICEF-supported programmes in Bangladesh. Using a combination of facilitation tools, VIPP has its roots from Latin America and Germany. These are derived from key works by Paulo Freire, Orlando Fals Borda and Eberhard Schnelle (Metaplan) among others.
When to use
When there are many individual problems that require solutions
When a group has a limited time to discuss problems/issues
When there are several shy/reserved/ introspective people in a group
When ideas need to flow freely without any censorship
How to use
The facilitator prepares enough paper or cards (A4 size or smaller) for each participant.
[A possible template is available from FAO under resources.]
Participants sit on chairs in a circle, facing inwards (6 - 8 people in a group).
Participants think of an actual problem/ issue/ question they need answered and write it down on the top of the page.
They then hand their papers/ cards to the participant on their left, so that he/ she can write a suggestion or answer below it.
Once a participant has answered a question on the paper/card, he/she hands it to the person on their left.
This second participant now reads the question posed and may write an entirely new suggestion below the first suggestion or they may improve on the first suggestion or answer. The paper/ card is now handed to the next person on the left.
In this manner, each paper/card is seen and answered by each participant in the circle until it reaches the owner of the problem/ question again.
The owner of the problem/ question now can choose from the many suggestions listed and select the best solutions or ideas.
A debrief round is possible, in which each participant shares their problem question and the best solutions. This may also be omitted if the ideas need to be processed.
Pros and Cons of this method:
It is an extremely simple method to use and doesn't require a lot preparation.
It allows participation from all without inhibition from more vocal participants.
It is a good method to use when there is conflict between people as it makes one focus on the question rather than the person.
The quality of answers depends on how well the question is written/formulated.
Etiquette for participants:
Clear, legible handwriting
Contribute solutions generously
Be constructive when providing solutions.
Build on each other’s ideas: develop and improve without criticism
Similar to Brainstorming, this method can also be combined with online tools such as:
(Twitter / Yammer)
Tips and Lessons Learnt
From a WorldFish Center session:
Larger circles of participants are possible, but that would be exhausting to the participants who would have to read and answer each question from the group.
Sometimes when the owner of a problem receives their paper back, they may need time to process the suggestions given and would be unable to make clear judgment on which solutions fit best. In such cases, a debrief may not be the best thing to do.
Examples & Stories
We have trained few Staff members in this method and one of the feedback we received was that it is important to frame the question properly. This is extremely important in this method because, unlike other methods (brainstorming, world café), there is no opportunity to explain/elaborate on the question. So, it is extremely important that before this method is used, everyone is made aware of the importance of clear question writing. Another important feedback was that prior to using this method an energiser could be used to get the creative juices flowing. - Gauri Salokhe, FAO.
Who can tell me more?
Meena Arivananthan (meena.arivananthan [at] gmail.com)
Gauri Salokhe (gauri.salokhe [at] fao.org)
Related Methods / Tools / Practices
Just Three Words
Photo or image credits
Meena Arivananthan (Meena.Arivananthan [at] fao.org)
Gauri Salokhe (Gauri.Salokhe [at] fao.org)
help on how to format text
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