A group exercise which has proven quite effective for surfacing and visualizing divergent opinions within a group, at a range of events around the globe, is the "spectrogram".
In a spectrogram, colored tape is laid out across an open floor in a meeting room. Ideally the tape stretches 15-20 yards/meters, though for smaller group sizes it can be smaller. One end of the tape is marked as "Strongly Agree", and the opposite end is labeled as "Strongly Disagree". Cross-marks are made at the 25%, 50%, and 75% points along the line.
Participants are then read a short, controversial or extreme statement. Those who agree with the statement are invited to move toward the "Strongly Agree" end of the line, positioning themselves closer to the end if their agreement is complete and towards the center if their agreement is mixed. Those who disagree with the statement are invited to do the same in the opposite direction.
The facilitator then "interviews" people along the line, asking them why they are standing where they are. Passion is encouraged in describing positioning, and listeners are encouraged to shift their position on the spectrogram as points are made which alter their thinking and perspective on the question.
Examples of "short, controversial or extreme statements" from Aspiration's Penguin Day events have included:
- Wikileaks is good for humanity
- "It is never OK to use proprietary software"
- "Non-profits should never use Free and Open Source Software"
- "Information should always be free"
- "User input is more important than developer talent to assure successful non-profit software projects"
Such statements are deliberately structured to be vague and potentially ambiguous, and participants are encouraged to interpret the statements in whatever way they see fit. The result is often a brisk emergence of community and conversation amongst the participants and a good 'mapping' of the topics and opinions that people want to explore and discuss.
Spectrograms can also result in a lot of spontaneous laughter, which is an excellent way to build the energy of the day.