Crawford Slip Writing

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Crawford developed the Crawford slip writing method in the USA in the 1920’s, for use in gathering ideas from large groups (even up to 5000 people, though it's much easier to handle with, say, 50 – 200).

It is actually one of the original forms of BrainWriting, and for small groups it reduces to an undemanding ‘private idea generation’ phase. It is used with large gatherings of people in say, a lecture theatre or hall and is in many ways is the manual, text-based, predecessor of a modern radio or TV ‘phone-in’.

  1. Each person is given a stack or note-pad of at least 25 small slips of paper (e.g. A6 paper). The pads are often pre-prepared to consist of idea-jogging graphics, or in the case of larger groups, the time and activity of handling the pads in Step 5 becomes crucial, so the pad needs to be designed so that the ideas can be separated and sorted easily.
  2. At appropriate points in the general proceedings, problem statements are read out to the group using any of the well established procedures such as: ‘How to…’ or ‘In what ways might we…’. The search is generally for ideas for solutions, however in some instances you may want to get ideas for alternative problem statements, or related issues, etc.
  3. Participants are told to write ideas of the required kind one per sheet, in any order. Displayed images or words to the whole meeting to act as triggers, or organising participants to work in twos or threes (e.g. with others sitting near them), can help with stimulating ideas.
  4. When writing has begun to slow down (usually 5 – 10 minutes) the note-pads are collected.
  5. If rapid feedback is being attempted, the booklets are immediately divided up between the members of a team of helpers and sorted in agreed ways – e.g. by frequency of occurrence and/or feasibility. If a greater degree of sophisticated categorisation is required, then the categories will probably have to be pre-determined (e.g. from an earlier pilot), so that each team member can work to the same categories. In the case of a very large meeting, presenting early feedback as examples drawn from a limited random sample of booklets may be the best option. Feedback during the same meeting is difficult to achieve. However, for an event lasting several days (such as a conference) quite complex feedback throughout the duration of the conference is plausible if the logistics are well planned. Rapid feedback from a large exercise can be quite a coup de theatre if organised successfully.
  6. After the early feedback, analysis and evaluation can continue at a steadier pace to identify the most useful ideas and develop them into practicable proposals.
  7. Finally, a feedback report dispatched to participants is often valuable.

This technique can successfully supply a method of achieving large numbers of ideas swiftly, at the same time creating a sense of democratic responsiveness

However, if the group is very large, the mass dynamics of timing, mood, image, ‘warm-up’ cultural acceptability, etc. can be critical. In the wrong environment, people may feel embarrassed, angry or resentful at being asked to participate. Conversely, if you create a very positive crowd mood, people may develop exaggerated expectations about your ability to follow up their ideas, and become disillusioned when very few ideas are take up.

To improve on this, automated techniques where participants have electronic voting buttons or (in smaller numbers) each have their own networked computer and keyboard have proved more successful. Evidence from computer studies suggests that provided that pace and energy can be upheld and that the logistics can be handled (easier said than done) there is no ‘optimal group size’ the larger the group, the more ideas you will get, though obviously there is a law of diminishing returns.