Guidelines for Effective Brainstorming

The purpose of a brainstorming session is, through group participation, to generate as many ideas as possible to address an issue or opportunity, and then decide on the best ideas for follow-up action. Consider substituting a brainstorming session for one society board meeting each year, and then setting aside some time at subsequent meetings to discuss implementing the best ideas.

Prepared by Hal Bookbinder, IAJGS President, August 2002

Rules for effective brainstorming include:

  • Start with two or three topics
  • Establish a leader and a recorder
  • Have a flipchart, markers, and materials to tape completed flipcharts to the wall
  • Arrange participants in a “U” so they can see one another and the flipchart
  • Set aside around two uninterrupted hours for the session
  • Ensure that everyone participates and no one dominates
  • Clarification may be requested. Criticism is not permitted.
  • All ideas are to be recorded on the flip chart, unless withdrawn
  • Ideas can be combined on the flip chart, if the speaker agrees
  • Ideas are not to be discussed, that will come later
  • Allow a fixed amount of time (say 30 minutes) to brainstorm a topic
  • Allow a fixed amount of time at the end of the session (say 10 minutes per topic) to review the flipcharts, agreeing by consensus on the most promising ideas

The brainstorming leader (typically, the society president) should set the topics to discuss. Potential topics might be:

  • Attracting new members
  • Retaining existing members
  • Better assisting less experienced members
  • Developing volunteers and leaders
  • Creating a more exciting program
  • Projects that the group might pursue

The brainstorming leader keeps the action going, ensuring that everyone participates and no one dominates. The leader will:

  • Identify the topic to be brainstormed
  • Remind the participants of the rules of the brainstorming session
  • Cut off long-winded explanations, discussion, or any criticism
  • Call time to wrap up the session
  • Lead the effort at the end of the session to identify the most promising ideas
  • Identify volunteers among the participants to write a proposal based on each topic

The brainstorming recorder ensures that the ideas are captured. The recorder will:

  • Write the ideas on a flipchart in as few words as possible
  • Tape flipcharts on the wall as they are filled with ideas, so that they can be referenced
  • Recommend the combining of ideas which are similar
  • Suggest wording that most concisely expresses the idea
  • Record the consensus ideas on flip charts during that part of the session

After the brainstorming session

  • Within one week, the recorder distributes the lists of ideas to all participants
  • Within one month, the volunteers prepare write-ups spelling out specific recommendations based on the group ideas
  • At subsequent board meetings, the president will select one of the write-ups and set aside some time (say half an hour) to discuss and agree on specific follow-up actions to implement the best of the best ideas. Progress would be tracked at the succeeding board meetings.