What is Affinity Map
Discover embedded patterns of thinking by sorting and clustering information into relationships and similar categories.
👥 From 2 to 20 participants | ⏰ between 45 and 90 minutes
Objectives of Affinity Mapping
Brainstorming works to get a high quantity of information and ideas on the table, but the key is to gather meaning from all the data.
This exercise can help your group discover embedded patterns (and sometimes break old patterns) of thinking by sorting and clustering language-based information into relationships. It can also provide a sense of where everyone’s thinking is focused. This exercise helps define categories and meta-categories within a cluster of ideas, and illuminates which ideas are most common within the group.
Affinity Mapping Instructions
- On a sheet of flip-chart paper, write a question the players will respond to along with a visual that complements it. Conduct this game only when you have a question for the players that you know will generate at least 20 pieces of information to sort.
- Ask each player to take 10 minutes to generate sticky notes in response to the question. Use index cards on a table if you have a group of four or less. Conduct this part of the process silently.
- Collect the ideas from the group and post them on a flat working surface visible to everyone.
- Based on guidance from the players, sort the ideas into columns (or clusters) based on relationships. Involve the group in the process as much as possible. Have the players approach the wall to post their notes—it saves time—and allow them to do an initial, general sorting in columns or clusters.
- Create a sticky-note “parking lot” close to the display for ideas that don’t appear to fall into a natural category. Redundancy in ideas is OK; don’t discard sticky notes because they’re already represented. It’s helpful to leave repeated ideas posted since it indicates to the group how many people are thinking the same thing. At this stage, ask the players to try to avoid searching for higher categories and simply to focus on grouping the information based on the affinities.
- Once the content is sorted, ask the group to suggest categories that represent the columns you’ve created and write the categories they agree on at the top of the column (or near a cluster if you chose a cluster rather than a column display). Don’t let the players spend an inordinate amount of time agreeing on a name for a category. If there’s disagreement over “Facilities” versus “Infrastructure,” write them both. If the players produce categories that are significantly different, pay attention to which category gets the most approval from the group and write that one.
Download Affinity Map Sketch Template: