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Affinity mapping: harnessing the wisdom of the crowd

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Last July we held a large-scale affinity mapping charrette as a way of gathering data about people’s day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. The affinity map proved to be a very effective tool for aggregating the collective wisdom of the crowd.

Collective intelligence in the digital realm is an idea that’s gained more traction in the past couple of years. Think of the crowdsourcing used to build the Linux operating system or Google’s search algorithms. What makes affinity mapping unique is its use as an analog tool to document collective intelligence. Even better, it creates a physical representation of the group’s collective thinking: the Post-It diagram.

The process of creating that physical artifact is how collective intelligence connects to design. As designers, we’re constantly working to create new things. The process of creation in design demands that we share, critique, and build upon one another’s ideas. Said another way, the creation process is how we facilitate the collective intelligence of the design group.

What are other analogue tools like the affinity map that can aid that facilitation and help us harness the wisdom of the design crowd more effectively? How can we structure our working process to incorporate and allow for collective intelligence to emerge?

- Allan Donnelly

Allan Donnelly is a member of Shepley Bulfinch’s architectural staff.

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