A Few Kinds of Lists
First, assign small groups with a task (for example, “what are some of your favorite creative direct action tactics?” or “what are ways you have heard of people using social media to win campaigns?”). You then ask for learnings and insights by recording them on big paper or chalkboard, accepting one per small group and going around until a good list is made.
Maximising/minimising the value of… (See Maximise/Minimise Learning)
This is a specific kind of list used to discover or learn new things. The facilitator first asks “How, in your experience, do you maximize (increase) the value of…?” (For example: your staff meetings, your demonstrations, your fundraising dinners, your board meetings, your meetings with new allies, your learning.)
List the ideas, and interact. Ask for an example or two –– for instance, ask for people to raise hands if they have found that a way of maximizing the value, ask for surprising ideas that might not already be what everyone is thinking (look for new ideas).
When it feels like the group really understands –– switch to “How, in your experience, do you minimize (make less) the value of…?” Smile, assure them this is honesty time, give permission for them to do self-disclosure. Interact a lot with them after the first one or two examples (but not at the beginning). Ask them for examples at first, then ask them how that might show up in this workshop.
You have options after this list is up, like forming pairs to talk about how to handle these discoveries (for example, asking each other “What support do you need?), or forming small groups to take different items from the Minimizing list and do problem-solving about that item, etc. etc.
Acknowledge that a topic or idea (e.g. “diversity,” “nonviolence,” “coalition-building”), like everything, has its positives and its negative. Explain that the group will take a minute to explore what those two sides are before moving forward. Put the topic in the middle of the top of the big paper, and on one side draw a plus sign (+) and on the other a minus sign (-). Invite thoughts and feelings.
Be ready for both minuses and pluses to be said, and reward both. The challenge here for the facilitator is to make sure everyone in the room feels comfortable telling the truth, no matter what that is.
After enough has been listed on both sides you have many options, including agreeing to cancel the rest of the workshop, using the minus side as material for problem-solving, etc. The most powerful use of this tool is to force a decision in the group –– for example, do we really want to go on learning how to build coalitions, or knowing the risks shall we go ahead and plan a civil disobedience action, etc.
Many of the above kinds of lists are sometimes mistakenly called brainstorm. Brainstorm is a specific kind of list where people come up with options—without discussion and without disagreement. The goal is to create lots of ideas—like a “storm” of the brain, where anything (no matter how wild or seemingly irrelevant) gets considered. All ideas get written on the flip-chart. Only after the “brainstorm” is done does the group return to looking at the list and beginning to start evaluating and making decisions/assessments.
Note that it’s a rare list that can’t bear a bit of study. If you ask participants to look at the list as a whole, not only is it a review of the discovery, harvesting, etc., but people may have additional insights, see gaps that are quite revealing, or see generalizations or themes. Use of a list is like working with the unconscious as well as the conscious part of group life. Enjoy!