Rotate Flip Charts for a Higher Quality Group Discussion

The “rotating flipcharts” technique: beginning, middle, and end.

Earlier this year I facilitated a meeting at the American Alliance of Museums to develop a new education category for the Museum Assessment Program. Their staff and I developed the goals, agenda, and logistics in advance. That’s not unusual, except that goals were incredibly ambitious for a one-day meeting with a dozen leaders in the field:

1. To identify the needs and challenges facing education in museums today.

2. To identify how MAP can best address these needs and challenges throughout the process.

3. To identify how Peer Reviewers can be better prepared and supported in their expanded roles.

I knew that the usual technique of asking questions and going around the table to collect individual responses would quickly become tedious, plus it didn’t take advantage of the sharper thinking that occurs through conversation. Likewise, facilitating a series of topical conversations with a dozen people would discourage full participation.

So I turned to Michael Wilkinson’s The Secrets of Facilitation: The Smart Guide to Getting Results to learn about his technique for “rotating flip charts.” It works like this:

  1. Break into small groups and each group works on a different issue or topic, writing their comments on a flip chart.
  2. The flip charts are posted on the wall and a different small group reviews the comments. Using a different colored pen, they place a check mark next to each item to indicate agreement. If they disagree, they place an X and add their response using a sticky notes. They can also add items at the bottom of the flip chart.
  3. When finished, the groups rotate to review another flip chart.
  4. When the small groups have rotated back to their own flip chart, they will see multiple check marks in different colors indicating agreement, as well as points of disagreement. They review all the disagreements (that is, the sticky notes) and mark yes or no if agree with the comment.
  5. As a large group, all the issues marked “no” are discussed and the entire group decides whether to accept or reject the comment.

I found the technique was efficient and effective, gathering lots of thoughtful perspectives plus people are more actively involved compared to the traditional reporting-out session (when they usually zone out). The participants enjoyed the process as well because they can have meaningful conversations around a focused topic (see Robert Forloney’s post on the AAM blog for a participant’s perspective). AAM staff was pleased with the richness of the responses and it helped them craft the new Education and Interpretation MAP that recently debuted.

Facilitation is a helpful skill if you’re working with groups (and who isn’t nowadays?) but it can be daunting. It always feels like I’m choreographing a Broadway show where I’ve chosen the music but not the dancers, so I’m not ever quite sure what will happen. Trying a new technique adds to the risk, but I’ve found the clear step-by-step guidance in Wilkinson’s book gives me enormous confidence.

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