Anonymous Voting

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The reason for using anonymity in a creativity method is to encourage participants to feel safe enough to take creative risks. It is useful for groups that have significant pressures or anxieties between participants. It is a basic feature of all nominal group methods and is an excellent way of protecting people against accidental or unintentional inter-personal pressures, in climates where there is basic goodwill towards differences of viewpoint, and a commitment to respecting them.

Methods such as Anonymous Voting cannot offer a particularly robust form of anonymity, and in climates where there is a serious risk of ‘bullying’ or significant levels of paranoid anxiety, this method could lead naive participants to exposing themselves to unacceptable risks, particularly when they return to the ‘outside world’. Facilitators need to be clear that the levels of risk they are asking participants to take are realistic. (There are software systems such as "Group Works" which offer much better anonymity.)

The method assumes that you start with a publicly visible list of perhaps 30-100 serially numbered ideas from some idea generation process.

  1. The leader indicates the length of short-list each member is to produce (usually ca. 5-9 items – 10-15% of the number of ideas on the list), and the ranking convention (e.g. ‘A’ is most preferred, followed by ‘B’, ‘C’, etc.).
  2. Members privately select their own short-list of ideas. They write each idea they select on a card with its serial list number.
  3. They decide how they want to order the ideas on their short list, and write the appropriate rank letter (‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, … etc.) on each card.
  4. The cards are handed in face down to the leader, who gathers everybody’s cards, shuffles them, and tallies the votes on a flip-chart by idea number. In this way, the vote remains anonymous.
  5. Notice that using numbers for serial list position and letters for rank order avoids the risk of confusing a list position with a rank, as might happen if numbers were used for the rank. If you prefer to use numbers for the rank order, you could avoid confusion by using different number ranges. For instance, if you use 1-9 for ranks and start your serial numbering from 10, there can be no confusion.
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