It looks like just a nice blue-coloured piece of cloth that is sticky on one side. You tape it to a wall with the sticky side on the front, and there you are. Well, not quite.
It’s a tool that has never let me down so far. So what’s so special about it?
First of all, the sticky wall is a tool used in the Technology of Participation (ToP), as developed by the Institute of Cultural Affairs in the USA (ICA-USA). So it’s not just a gadget, it is part of a way of working, a participatory approach. I was trained in this methodology by Simon Koolwijk and have used it for around 10 years now.
Secondly, it really works and always works. With any group and, in my experience so far, with any question to be addressed. That is, if you are interested in generating a common group result out of individual contributions of all participants in a participatory manner.
Thirdly, of course, the sticky wall makes your life easier when needing to present things on flip charts or other types of papers. You can stick flip charts with the backside up on the sticky wall and turn them around as you go. I have even used empty flip charts on a sticky wall as a screen for a video or powerpoint presentation.
So how does it work?
The sticky wall was developed as a tool to facilitate group discussions from brainstorms, via discussions, to joint conclusions carried by all and based on all input. Therefore, you start by focusing the group on their focus question. From an individual brainstorm, you gather ideas written on A5 cards and stick them on the wall. By taking out doubles and grouping cards that “belong together” the group develops an organised overview of all ideas.
Here is where the stickiness proves valuable: it’s easy to move a card from one position to another, and then back again or on to yet another position. And to see where it looks and feels best placed. You can add cards as needed, and where needed. The wall is as patient as the group.
Of course there is a bit more to this process, but this is the basic idea. All ideas of all participants are visible to all and are paid attention to. Eventually, a true group result comes out of all ideas, showing a clearer, structured picture and a direction for further work. Very useful when working with a (multi-stakeholder) group that needs to develop a joint strategy, programme or work plan.
Recently, I used the sticky wall also to structure ideas that came up during a Q&A session with an expert. I took notes on A5 and A4 cards during the discussion and afterwards stuck them to the sticky wall randomly. I read out loud all cards and asked participants if I had forgotten something or misunderstood a certain point or issue. When the group was satisfied that everything discussed was shown on the wall, I asked them to group the cards in whatever clusters seemed logical to them. In the end, it turned out we had not just discussed practical questions related to implementation of a rural development programme, but in fact had identified key problems related to a) beneficiaries, b) administration/institutions and c) both of these stakeholder groups.
This way, we managed to get much more out of the discussion than anticipated and found a good basis for our next deliberations.
There are many other instances in which making ideas and information visible and tangible on the sticky wall can be helpful to achieve a common point of view and joint conclusions. I hope you will discover this, too!
More information on ToP and the sticky wall can be found here