Also known as: affinity chart, affinity map, K-J Method, thematic analysis, Space Saturate and Group
What is an Affinity diagram?
Affinity diagrams provide a method to help make sense of information when there is a lot of mixed data, such as facts, ideas from brainstorms, user opinions, user needs, insights, and design issues. The affinity diagram helps to develop a system of thoughts about complex issues or problems, organising information into common themes or natural relationships. By organising into affinity 'cluster/groups' it is much easier to visualise the commonality and plan for and address the challenges.
When to use an Affinity diagram
- When confronted with many facts or ideas
- When issues seem too large and complex to grasp
- When group consensus is necessary
- When wanting to develop relationships or themes among ideas
- Following brainstorming exercises
- Is our issue or problem complex and hard to understand?
- Is our issue or problem uncertain, overwhelming and disorganised?
- Is our issue or problem requiring a group/team approach/involvement?
If you answer YES, then the Affinity Diagram is likely the tool for your team to use!
Materials required: marking pens, sticky notes or cards, large work surface (wall, table, or floor) wall chart, white board or chalk board.
- Record pieces of data, facts, drawings, ideas, and observations onto post-it notes, cards, or pieces of paper. We recommend using sticky notes as these allow teams to easily move pieces of information around in order to create clusters of similar themes, groups and patterns.
- Place the pieces of information randomly onto either a wall chart, white board or chalk board.
- Gather the team/group around the notes ready to participate in the next process.
- The next step can be completed with or without talking. Depending on the context, talking may either help or hinder the process - ultimately you need to decide whether there is a chance of biases to other team member ideas. Team members can now be asked to attempt to look for relationships between the individual ideas.
- As relationships are identified, the information displayed on the post-it notes is moved into clusters/groups on the wall chart, white board or chalk board.
- Repeat this process until all notes are grouped. Generally most teams end up developing between 3-10 clusters/groups depending on the issue.
- You may find there are some lone ideas that don’t seem to fit a group; leave these where they are or move them to the side.
- It’s okay to move a note someone else has already moved from one cluster/group to another.
- If a note seems to belong in two groups, make a second note.
- Next is the group discussion to define the clusters/groups. This assists with information structuring and creating headers. Look for a note within each cluster/group that captures the essence or meaning. If you can’t identify one note, write one. Place or move this to the top - often it is useful to write or highlight this note in a different colour.
Affinity diagrams stimulate discussion about a problem or issue, opening up the possibilities for improvement or solutions. Affinity diagrams present interesting data and useful ideas that should lead to further analysis and translation for practice.
Things to consider with Affinity diagrams
Decide who will lead the process:
This person will be responsible for leading the group through the steps involved in creating the affinity diagram.
Schedule appropriate time:
It can take anywhere from a few minutes to days to organise an affinity diagram; this depends on whether you have a few dozen or hundreds of notes.
Decide whether to sort individually or as a team:
Some teams allow several days to provide everyone within the team time to review, reflect and move notes into the related clusters/groups. This can be achieved by still laying out the notes randomly as discussed above. Choose an area of the workspace that is accessible to all, so team members can contribute in their own time.
A silent process?
There is an argument for not talking during the initial sorting process. Determine your team’s context and whether there is a risk of biases to other team member ideas.
Is the affinity diagram right for our problem/issue?
Use an affinity diagram when you can answer yes to the 3 following questions:
- Our issue or problem is complex and hard to understand
- Our issue or problem is uncertain, overwhelming and disorganised
- Our issue or problem requires a group/team approach/involvement