Participant-Driven Approach to Autonomously Cluster Brainstorming Ideas

Participant-Driven Approach to Autonomously Cluster Brainstorming Ideas

Joel H. Helquist (Utah Valley University, USA), John Krus (MITRE Corporation, USA) and Jay Nunamaker (University of Arizona, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-466-0.ch019
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This chapter presents an exploratory examination of the impact of synchronicity and quantity of brainstorming ideas on the ability of a group to autonomously cluster brainstorming ideas. Groups were tasked with clustering brainstorming ideas through the use of a Group Support Systems (GSS) tool. The tool allowed each participant to create and modify categories to which individual brainstorming ideas could be aligned. No explicit means of coordination were available; each participant worked autonomously to cluster the brainstorming ideas. The results indicated that the groups working synchronously displayed improved performance and satisfaction ratings. Likewise, groups categorizing the smallest quantity of brainstorming ideas performed better than the larger quantities.
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Participant-Driven Group Support System

The goal of the PD-GSS framework is to leverage the skills and abilities of each group member in order to further the collaborative work of the group as a whole. It is through each individual participant's actions and contributions that the group can complete the collaborative work.

Two main thrusts comprise the PD-GSS framework. First, PD-GSS seeks to improve the ability of a group to collaborate in a distributed, asynchronous manner. This ability also leads to the ability to collaborate with larger groups. Second, PD-GSS seeks to improve the collaborative process by mitigating the dependence on an expert facilitator. The second thrust must be addressed in order to address the first.

In our example in the introduction, the group members are able to autonomously generate brainstorming ideas in parallel. Parallel refers to the notion that the participants can all be entering different brainstorming ideas into the tool at the same time. However, when the group must cluster the ideas into categories or buckets, an expert facilitator is typically engaged to guide a discussion of which categories should be created and which ideas belong to each category; the workflow becomes serial at this point as all of the participants must work through the facilitator to execute the work. The ability of the facilitator to guide the clustering is dependent on the ability to communicate with the group. In a distributed, asynchronous environment, this becomes increasingly difficult due to the limited communication channels.

In the PD-GSS framework, each member of the group works autonomously, in parallel, to identify clusters. This shift away from the facilitator toward the participants enables groups to work in a distributed fashion, keeping the participants engaged, as there is no reliance on an external communication channel. PD-GSS allows for more flexibility in the contexts in which groups can collaborate as the reliance on a facilitator and verbal communication channels is reduced.

One of the premises of the PD-GSS framework is that the group members can work autonomously and in parallel to identify logical groupings among the brainstorming ideas without coordination measures in place (i.e., a facilitator or additional communication channels). Each participant identifies and adjusts clusters such that the final categorization represents group consensus. Figure 1 presents the PD-GSS methodology of decomposing the convergence process into parallel activities.

Figure 1.

PD-GSS approach to brainstorming convergence


Research Questions

The primary purpose of this research is to further examine the ability of groups to conduct convergence activities without the aid of the facilitator or explicit communication channels. The results from this experiment serve to further understand the ability of groups to implicitly coordinate their work, via consensus, without a facilitator to guide the process and coordinate discussion and issue resolution.

Two key contextual factors are examined in this research: synchronicity and quantity of brainstorming ideas. The impact of synchronicity may impact the group in different ways. It is plausible that synchronous groups may experience certain amounts of groupthink regarding the categories. The impact of groupthink may limit the amount of critical analysis and category revisions. The end result may be a set of categories that are not clustered as well as an asynchronous group. Asynchronous groups may exhibit less groupthink due to the lack of group interaction. The end result may be a set of categories that are of higher quality.

Alternatively, the asynchronous nature of the interaction may provide too much of a hindrance to the participants, limiting their overall effectiveness and efficiency such that the end result is not as high of quality as the synchronous treatments. Since the participants are working asynchronously, it is more difficult for them to process the changes and work performed by the other participants. This diminished ability to interact with the group and actively monitor their actions may hinder the overall performance of the group.

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