Progressive Revelation

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William Gordon of the Arthur D. Little consulting firm developed the progressive revelation technique (named by VanGundy, 1981; 1988 as the Gordon-Little technique).

The problem is initially presented in a very theoretical, non-specific form and the more factual details are made known gradually step-by-step. This avoids premature closure and can help maintain the excitement and novelty of any type of Brainstorming or Brainwriting session so that it doesn’t ‘tail off’.

The method is outlined below; it assumes that participants must not already know what the problem is:

  1. Explain what is going to happen – i.e. that you are going to present a problem in a very theoretical form initially, because that often makes it easier to thinking openly about it.
  2. The presentation of the problem is presented in a very abstract, generalised form.
  3. Generating ideas by participants using any appropriate idea generation method.
  4. Repeat steps 2-3 when the idea flow slows down, you should go back to step 2 to provide additional information, repeating this cycle and providing increasingly factual information each time until you have finally presented the whole problem.
  5. Finally once the full problem has been revealed, the group use the previously generated ideas as triggers to generate actual solutions to the original problem.

Example - A problem about car parking might be presented as follows:

  • Extremely abstract and generalised: ‘methods of storing large things’
  • Slightly less generalised: ‘ways of storing objects weighing over a ton that need to be taken in and out of storage frequently and easily’.
  • Approaching the real problem: ‘what if the objects had wheels and were motorised?’
  • The actual problem: ‘the actual problem is how to improve on the vehicle parking arrangements for Mycoted and Co’.

Issues to take into consideration

The procedure needs sensitive handling by the facilitator, participants could be made to feel they are being manipulated as to how they go about the natural thinking processes, therefore it could be beneficial to explain the rationale behind the technique before using it (see step 1 above).

Try to avoid biasing the idea generation, choosing the most appropriate stages to reveal further factual information. In the example above once the car-parking problem has been introduced as a storage problem, it is less likely to be seen as a travel problem, as a way of displaying personal wealth or as a security problem, etc.