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Brain Mapping

Each week, Instant Meeting presents an idea or activity that you might use to make staff meetings more interesting, teacher-centered, educational, or fun.

Brief Description/Purpose

Sometimes problems are complex; they have a variety causes and even causes for the causes. Here is a graphic tool that will help you clarify the analysis.

Materials Needed

Flip chart paper or, even better, a larger piece of paper (4'x6') that you can tape to a flat wall. You'll need watercolor markers, since permanent markers will bleed through the paper to the wall.

Time Required


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The exercise can be done in 20-40 minutes depending of the size of the group and the complexity of the issue. You will also need to allow a little extra time to transcribe the notes after the meeting.

"Instant Meeting" Idea

Often the problems that your group is trying to solve are complex and have multiple causes, or even causes for the causes. It is difficult to get a handle around all those things at once. For example, you school might be running into a space crunch. Files and supplies are encroaching on the hallways. Special classes are taking up library space. You need to look at what is causing the problem.

Ask the group to brainstorm with you the causes of the space crunch: "Why are we so short of space?" Take that question and put it in a circle in the middle of your large piece of paper. Ask people to make suggestions for the causes. You might use the "hybrid brainstorming" technique for generating responses to the question.

Hybrid brainstorming, in brief, requires all participants to agree on the stated cause before it is included. No item is included unless there is consensus. (For more on hybrid brainstorming, see Great Meetings, Great Results!, page 83.

If the group agrees that the stated cause is one of the causes, draw a spoke out from the main circle to a secondary circle and label that circle with the title of that cause. For example, someone might say that one cause is that there isn't any storage space. The others agree, so you write "no storage space" in an outlying circle and connect it with a line to the center circle. You can then ask are there any causes for the fact that there is no storage available. Those ideas -- "storage room full of old files" or "classrooms don't have closets" -- are then put in circles that spoke off of the "no storage" circle. You continue until all the ideas for causes of the problem are up on the diagram. Your diagram might look like this:

Once you have everyone's ideas for what belongs on the diagram, then you can work with the group on solving the problem by working to change one or more of the causes.

This idea was submitted by Dee Kelsey and Pam Plumb, authors of Great Meetings, Great Results! Be sure to visit the Great Meetings Web site to learn more about Dee and Pam, their book, workshops, and other products and services.

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