Group Brainstorming: Dot Voting with a Difference

After a group brainstorming session, how do you decide which ideas to pursue? Dot voting is a popular technique. Here is way to use this idea evaluation technique for the best results.

You’ve been in an ideation session for half a day and the walls of the room are covered with sticky notes. Hundreds of ideas cling precariously to the wall. You know that most of them are just fodder, but within this chaos there are undoubtedly some gems. How to make a decision? One of the easiest and most acceptable ways is dot-voting … but there’s one step that most people miss.

Step 1: Turn your back on the ideas and take a clean piece of easel paper.

Step 2: Brainstorm the criteria for evaluating an idea or solution. You might say, “A good idea or solution would have the following characteristics ….” Perhaps there’s a budget constraint, or a time deadline, or it has to use specific materials, or it has to appeal to a certain person or group of customers, or it has to be no bigger than a deck of cards, or … well, you get the idea.

Step 3: Once you have the list of criteria (which probably won’t be more than 10-15 items), try to get a consensus on the priority of the criteria. If this is too difficult, you may need to dot vote the criteria so follow the process in the next step.

Step 4: Now that everyone has the decision criteria in mind, have them use a colored marker that will show up easily and give them 3-5 votes. People mark their votes by making a visible dot on the idea of their choice.

Step 5: Rearrange the ideas so that the ideas with the dots are grouped together, ranked from most dots to least.

Step 6: Talk about the ideas that received the most votes and see if there is a general level of comfort with taking one or more of those ideas to the next step.

Step 7: Before ending, have everyone go through the undotted ideas one more time to see if there are any “orphans” there that someone thinks should be given a home somewhere.

Step 8: Decide on next steps and throw away the mountain of stickies.

Joyce Wycoff is a co-founder of the InnovationNetwork, an organization focused on helping organizations develop a core competency of innovation. She has a broad background in management and marketing and a deep understanding organizational innovation. Joyce is the author of several books on innovation and creativity, including Mindmapping, Transformation Thinking, and To Do … Doing … Done!

  • Jeremy Lu

    Really liked what you had to say Joyce. Quite often, no decisions are made because there is no process in place. Thought I’d share an example of a digital brainstorming and dot voting exercise for distributed teams, anonymous voting or when it’s important to have clear results quickly. You can actually set the number of votes, hide results until the end (to avoid group think) and allow either one or many dot votes per idea to help prioritise the key areas for action. Keen to hear what you think. http://www.groupmap.com

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