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Methods to build empathy for the project and people involved.

KJ method

What

A facilitated exercise in which participants list their individual priorities onto cards, collect them as a group, organize them by relationship, and establish group priorities through individual voting.

Why

To reach a consensus on priorities of subjective, qualitative data with a group of people. This is especially helpful with larger groups of stakeholders and groups with high risk of disagreement.

Time required

1–2 hours

How to do it

  1. Gather four or more participants for 90 minutes. Provide sticky notes and markers.
  2. Create a focused question about the project’s needs and select a facilitator to run the exercise.
  3. Give participants five minutes to write at least three responses to the question, each on its own note.
  4. Give participants 15 minutes to put their answers on the wall, read everyone else’s, and make additions. Have participants cluster similar answers without discussion.
  5. Ask participants to write names for each cluster on their own — this is mandatory. They may also split clusters.
  6. Put each name on the wall by its cluster. Exclude word-for-word duplicates.
  7. Reiterate the question and have each person rank their three most important clusters. Visually tally points.
  8. Combine duplicates and their points if the entire group agrees they’re identical. Three or four groups usually rank higher than the rest — these are the priorities for the question.

Example from 18F

18F conducted this exercise with 20 Federal Election Commission staff members to define priorities around conflicting requests. We used this method to get data from staff (not the decision makers) about what they saw as the most pressing needs. We synthesized and presented the data back to the decision makers.

Additional resources

“The KJ-Technique: A Group Process for Establishing Priorities.” Jared M. Spool.

Applied in government research

At 18F, KJ participants are almost always federal employees. If there is any chance your KJ workshop could include participants who are not federal employees, consult OMB guidance on the Paperwork Reduction Act and the Privacy Act. Your agency’s Office of General Counsel, and perhaps OIRA desk officers, also can ensure you are following the laws and regulations applicable to federal agencies.

18F