Bureau of Reclamation Banner
This information is intended to convey the underlying concepts for Reclamation's decision processes. It is not mandatory.
See the Reclamation Manual for official Reclamation-wide requirements.

Reclamation's Decision Process Guide

toolboxAffinity Diagrams

go through pageWhat / How / Go On

pretty border

navigate in the page--What Is It Good For?

Affinity grouping is a brainstorming method in which participants write down their ideas, organize them, and identify common themes.

This tool helps generate, then organize ideas or concerns that are numerous, complex, or not easily organized.

Advantages Over "Routine" Brainstorming:

  • The physical mobility of several ideas (on separate slips of paper) facilitates their organization. It's more difficult to organize lengthy lists of ideas on flipchart paper.
  • It identifies clusters of thoughts shared by several people. It can assist in prioritizing the next steps by identifying where the greatest interest/concern lies.
  • It encourages more participation by members who are inclined to be introverted or reluctant to articulate ideas/concerns out loud. There is a greater degree of anonymity than with oral brainstorming (but not complete anonymity).

pretty border

navigate in the page--How Do I Use It?

Grouping various needs can often lead to categories for options and alternatives in steps 4 and 6 (for example, water quality needs can generate options to address specifc water quality problems).

  1. Decide on the topic to be diagramed. Clearly define the topic and write it on a flipchart; check for clear and consistent understanding.
  2. Distribute a supply of paper to each participant -- large post-its or large index cards.
  3. Each participant independently (silently) brainstorms the topic, writing down one idea per slip of paper.
  4. Collect all the papers and put them on a wall. (Post-its are useful because they readily stick to a wall. Use tape for large index cards.)
  5. Organize the ideas (actually move the papers around).
  6. Ask the entire group to review the organized ideas, ask clarifying questions, and agree on reorganizing, as needed.
  7. Identify the common theme of each group of ideas. Write it down on a separate slip of paper above the grouping.

Additional Tips:

  • This tool works best with a small group, approximately 6 to 8 participants. Consider using subgroups if the group is large.
  • If you notice a card getting moved back and forth a lot, duplicate the card and let the group to place the idea in more than one category.
  • Ensure that the theme cards are specific. Where affinity Grouping is used to identify more complex themes, (for example, issues, barriers, goals, etc.), the theme card must be more than one word. For example, a list of barriers identified under the theme card "procedures" doesn't provide enough information, while "procedural barriers within Sugar Boy Mine" can pinpoint the topic.

pretty border

navigate in the page--Go On


PreviousTool Selection Worksheet

NextTool List

Please contact Deena Larsen 303-445-2584 with questions or comments on this material.