Institutional Change

Enable Idea Generation

The purpose of this activity is to introduce your team to a structured brainstorming process that can help your team collectively generate new ideas. The Playbook introduces some excellent ideas and tips for how individuals can increase their own creativity. For example, blocking out one hour per week on your schedule for wild brainstorming by yourself. This group activity can help the team generate and build on the ideas of one another as a group and begin to create or reinforce a culture that supports new ideas.


1-2 hours

Group Size


Skill Level


Comfort Level



Flip Chart, Markers, Sticky Notes, 8.5 x 11 white paper

Step 1

Introduce the purpose of the idea generation activity. Your purpose will depend on your needs. Do you want to simply introduce your team to idea generation techniques and practice some methods or do you want to generate ideas for a specific program or campaign or tackle a challenge and find a solution. You can select one or all of brainstorming techniques below based how much time you have.  In any case: begin with an introduction about why you have called this specific meeting.

Step 2

Do a brief overview of frameworks for effective idea generation. These are simple guidelines to support creativity, encourage divergent thinking, and generate quantity of ideas in the initial stage of ideation. Explain the guidelines for brainstorming below. If you want, write the bold phrases on a flip chart paper and briefly state them:

  • Yes, and… Build on the ideas of others by saying yes! And then add onto their ideas. Listen actively for opportunities to build and elaborate.
  • More is more (in the first stage) it’s all about quantity: Focus on getting down as many ideas as possible rather than striving to come up with really “good” ideas. Get it all out.
  • Postpone judgment: Send your inner critic on a trip to Hawaii and resist the urge to evaluate the ideas as they flow out. Anything goes and the time for judgement is later.
  • Team is everything: Make full use of all brains by ensuring that every team member is included. Create space for everyone to contribute their ideas.

Step 3

Now that the team understands the parameters, it is time to dig into the actual brainstorming exercise. It is time to introduce the brainstorming question for your team. In some instances, your team might come up with its own questions. Alternately, there may be a main question that everyone on the team works on together. Remember, the “brainstorming question” should be an open, clear, and engaging one that seeks a solution to a compelling problem or need.

Tell your team that you are going to try out several brainstorming methods and the final result is to leave the session with many great ideas.

Step 4

There are a variety of exercises that can help you with your brainstorming. Here are a few different alternatives:


To create a word storm, you share one word that might be the answer to the key question at hand, and then the group generates a slew of words that come to mind from that first word.

To facilitate the exercise, hand sticky notes to everyone. Write your word on a sticky note and place it on the flip chart.  Ask participants to work in pairs or trios to brainstorm words. Encourage participants to think about the function of that word, its aesthetics, how it’s used, metaphors that can be associated with it, and so on. Encourage your team to let the ideas flow naturally.

Give participants several minutes to brainstorm in pairs and ask participants to group them together according to how they’re related to one another. Ask each small group to share their sticky note brainstorm by placing the post-it notes on the flip chart, organized in different themes and clusters. If groups have similar themes or ideas, have them add their sticky notes to existing clusters. As the small groups report out, you can reorganize categories on the fly.

Once everyone has shared their sticky notes and clusters on the flip chart, close the exercise with this question: What are some of the less obvious words or phrases you might associate with this project? What solutions or ideas does this spark? Capture their reflections on the flip chart by writing down key phrases.


Scamper stands for:

  • Substitute: What are the alternatives to materials, processes, methods you’re already using/doing?
  • Combine: How can you combine seemingly disparate ideas?
  • Adapt: How can you adapt something you’re already doing/using for a project?
  • Modify: What materials, processes, methods can you modify to solve a problem?
  • Put to other use: Can you put a material, process, method to another use?
  • Eliminate: What can you do to eliminate problems and inefficiencies? What materials, methods, and steps, can be eliminated?
  • Rearrange: How can you move around materials, method steps, and processes, to solve a problem?

You can use the above definition to create a worksheet, slide, or write it out on a Flip Chart. Hand out pieces of 8.5 x 11 paper. Ask participants to think about the main brainstorming question or their own and systematically go through the SCAMPER process. Give them no more than 10 minutes and time it for them.

Once time is up, ask the group: did the SCAMPER framework help you think of an unusual idea or solution to the question?  What was it


Handout blank white pages of paper to participants. Ask them to write the key question on the top of the paper. Next, ask them to write down a crazy, out of the box answer or solution to the question. Tell them they only have a few minutes and they can draw or write phrases or bullet points, but not to get stuck.

Once everyone is finished, ask them to pass their paper to the person to the right. Then ask them to pass the paper to the person to the right again. Next, ask them to write the following question underneath the idea, “Why won’t this idea work?” and then give five minutes to write down the reasons the idea won’t work.

When five minutes is up, ask participants to pass their paper to the person to the right. Then ask them to pass the paper to the person to the right again.

This time, ask participants to revise the idea based on the critique. Give them five minutes to do this. Collect all the papers from everyone.

Step 5

Regardless of the process you choose to use, facilitate a brief reflection with the group afterward so you can adapt your brainstorming processes for the future. Consider the following questions:

  • Was this brainstorming process productive? How might we improve it?
  • How might we incorporate this type of process into our regular work flow?

Make sure that you document and capture the products of all the brainstorming activities so you can refer to them in future meetings or work on finding a solution.  If possible, commit to a follow up meeting to continue brainstorming.