Have you ever used the technique we call a ‘dotmocracy’ to get a group to prioritise a set of ideas/initiatives/actions? Each person is given five sticky dots (red ones usually—the ones you find placed next to paintings in a gallery to denote they’ve been sold). Each dot-carrier is then invited to place any number of their dots next to the things that they think are most important. You can use all your dots on one thing or spread them judiciously. The things with the most number of dots is voted by the group as the most important.
Many people have used a dotmocracy before or quickly work out how it works. Consequently there seems to be always a handful of people who hold onto their votes with the hope that their late placement might swing the priority result in their favour.
I’ve observed another interesting dotmocracy pattern. When a cluster of dots form on an issue it seems to attract more dots. I believe economists call this an information cascade where the actions of some influence others creating a domino effect. It’s how fads and market bubbles form. I’m sure I’ve seen dotmocracy fads.
It’s true that a group of people can make a better decision than any single expert—this is the persuasive argument developed by James Surowiecki in his book, Wisdom of Crowds. But group-based decision quality is based on preconditions being satisfied: the group must be diverse; decisions must be made independently; and decision making information is decentralised. These conditions can be satisfied in a workshop prioritisation activity by simply conducting a secret vote.
One thing I like about the dotmocracy approach is the mayhem and excitement is creates with everyone milling about one another. I wonder if the secret vote approach would kill that dynamic?
Do you know of other ways to aggregate a group decision in a workshop environment?
About Shawn Callahan
Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on: