Making Things Easy: Using Three Buckets

We believe that facilitation should make things easy for people. Sometimes we develop a new method that does just that! Our Three Bucket Method is a perfect example of how we can help break down problems into easy containable elements so people can find their way through the fog.

The situation we were asked to facilitate was for a scientific study who will be starting a process of interviewing people to collect a wide range of data. The meeting we were asked to facilitate was of the Scientific Steering Group who needed to agree the final questions that would be used in the interviews. The problem was that in the pilot study there were about 60 minutes more of questions than was reasonable to ask in the time allowed.

We had one day with the Steering Group to reach consensus about which of the items should go.  There were 1,000 items in total to discuss and agree consensus on! We quickly realised that this would be a challenge and needed to be broken down into a more manageable amount.

3 buckets imageThe questions were all arranged in categories and there were 25 different categories.  We knew that it would be important to keep momentum going across the day so that these important decisions which would impact on researchers for years ahead were not rushed.

This is where the 3 Bucket Idea started to develop. By suggested that we divide up the 25 categories across 3 different “Buckets” we started to break down the challenge into bite size pieces. Each “Bucket” would be dealt with in turn using a consensus decision making process:

  1. For each Bucket session we set up three areas of the group and divided the question categories across these three areas. Each area had two- four spreadsheets to examine with the questions.
  2. The Steering Group were divided into three groups and each group took one section of the Bucket to look at. They discussed the items as a group and then individually voted with coloured dots on each individual item. They then moved to the next section of the room and repeated this process and then with the final third section.
  3. Our facilitators then looked at the Bucket and identified any questions where there was clear consensus for removal. These were quickly dealt with. Any questions which mainly seemed to be highlighted as suitable for removal were discussed.
  4. We then calculated how much time had been saved, celebrated this saving with a cup of tea and went onto the next bucket.

2014-01-29 10.49.06The process took the day but by the end of the day the required minutes had been saved. By using the 3 Buckets method we had managed to keep the energy and momentum going because there was variety throughout the day. If we had tried to do all the items in one go there would have been a very long period of sitting and trying to reach consensus.

Of course the Bucket Method is not really a “proper” method, we just used the word bucket because it seemed like a suitable metaphor when discussing the approach with our client and the word stuck! What it shows is how facilitation can add value to meeting by thinking not about the content but how to approach the content so consensus can be reached in way that supports engagement and not boredom.

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