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Word-Concept Association

Word-Concept Association is a technique that involves the association of descriptive terms with, and between, elements of an activity or tool. A discussion of these terms can help to form a consensus around how the elements are evaluated and prioritised.

Description, evaluation, prioritisation, discussion

This technique involves a group of participants associating descriptive terms with elements they have identified of an activity, tool, practice, or process. This encourages discussion between participants around their reasoning behind their perception of each annotated element. This discussion can lead towards a better shared understanding of the activity or tool, and creates a space within which the participants can highlight and explore specific elements that are identified as problematic or of high priority.

How does it relate to me?
This technique is both cheap and easy to do. By encouraging discussion around a certain process or tool, this technique can help to create a shared understanding, to evaluate and prioritise, and to identify what areas are problematic around the topic in question.

What should I do next?
Depending on the number of participants, this activity can be done as a whole group, or it can be split into smaller groups. Each group should be comprised of between four and eight participants. It is necessary to have a facilitator who chairs the activity, although this does not exclude the facilitator from participating. Depending on the number of participants/groups this activity should take no longer than one hour.

To begin with, the facilitator asks the group(s) to identify the key elements (aspects and concepts) of the issue at hand, eg an activity, a tool, an existing or developing practice. If there is limited time, these elements can be organised beforehand and handed out to the participants, but going through this process as a group helps engage the participants. If there is more than one group and they are doing this task separately, then there should be additional time permitted to allow a group-wide discussion around which elements were chosen and why.

The participants are then asked to all contribute descriptive words they associate with each of the identified elements, and also with the relationships between the elements, with a reason why. Although the reason doesn’t need to be noted down, this process can help to encourage thought behind each contribution. If appropriate, however, humorous contributions should not be discouraged. It is also important to allow discussion through this phase, although the facilitator should moderate this so that all of the participants get an opportunity to contribute, and also ensure that the group is not stuck discussing one point for an excessive amount of time.

This process of association, exploration, evaluation and discussion can help to highlight which aspects of the specific process or tool are most problematic, which are the most useful, and which need the most attention. The discussion around this also helps to create a shared understanding between the participants which can aid future discussion and development.