Nothing beats qualitative (non-numerical) data collection methods for getting a high volume of rich, interesting information from project participants and stakeholders. The downside is that these methods are resource intensive, so you usually are limited to involving a relatively small number of participants in conversation.
But what if you want to collect a lot of qualitative responses from a lot of people?
If you do, check out the Liberating Structures website. It provides step-by-step instructions for activities to engage large groups in conversations for planning and evaluation. The website offers a menu of 33 activities with extensive planning details, plus ideas for combining activities into an almost unlimited number of group discussion formats.
I participated in a Liberating Structures activity in Denver last month when I attended the Quint*Essential Conference, hosted by five Medical Library Association chapters. Staff from National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM) regional offices invited all conference attendees to generate and evaluate ideas for future network initiatives. It was a high-energy activity that engaged more than 100 people in providing bold ideas for future activities.
The beauty of Liberating Structures activities is that the guidelines include how to document conversations so meeting facilitators will end their exercises with actual data. In some cases, the data can be quickly analyzed. NN/LM facilitators were able to compile and report results from the Quint discussion in the exhibit hall later that day.
I want to thank Claire Hamasu, the Associate Director of the NN/LM MidContinental Region, for pointing me to the Liberating Structures web site and including me in the Quint Conference activity. I personally look forward to trying more of these activities and hope other readers are inspired to do so as well.