# Voting With Dots

Mike Dennison (Michael.Dennison@icl.com) compiled this thread on 20 December 2000 from a discussion on the Electronic Discussion on Group Facilitation:
Grp-Facl@listserv.albany.edu http://www.albany.edu/cpr/gf/

I have tried to group the responses into a number of headings with the occasional split of a response  into two, otherwise the thread is presented in chronological order and the responses are not edited  other than to remove duplicated or redundant text. The groupings are:

The overall purpose

How many dots to use

Variations on the method

Interim Summary

Caveats and warnings - use voting with care!

Experience using dots

Web and online use

Extending the technique

Miscellany

Thank you to all of you who contributed to a lively and enlightening debate.

In a message dated 11/15/00 6:17:43 AM Central Standard Time, I posed the original question:

Many years ago I was introduced to a technique of using sticky coloured dots to identify the most  important items from a list, a form of prioritisation. I generally hand out between 3 and 5 dots to each  member of the group. The number I use (when I think on it) depends on the group size, the number of  items and the number I would like to focus on out of the group. (More items -> more dots, more to  select -> more, more people -> less?).

The rules are simple - there are none in that a group member can use all on one, spread out or none  or even trade their dots for favours from other group members, just stick your dots onto the (generally)  flips against the items and then we see how it all pans out.

It is a technique that generally works well. However I mentioned it in a training session and was asked  what the rationale was for chosing the number of dots. I vaguely remember the person who  introduced me to the technique suggesting a rule of thumb but can't remember what it was. I can't  remember who the person was either!

So I am seeking the help of the vast combined powers of the discussion group. Have any of you have  used the technique, if so have you got a formula or process for chosing how many dots to hand out or, if not, how do you chose?

## The overall purpose

### Ned Ruete [nedruete@hotmail.com] Wed 15/11/00 13:52

I have often used "rounds" of multivoting.  What you're looking for is some  clear groupings: a few  items with twice as many votes as there are voters,  another grouping with about 1/2 to 2/3 that  number, another grouping with  one to three votes, and those that didn't get any.  If you don't get clear   break points that show which are the obvious high-priority items, you might  revote on the top half, or  start over with a different number of votes  (usually to get the spread, more votes are needed to  provide people with  enough to give a vote to each of the ones they think are important and a lot  of  votes to their top choice -- hmm, that starts to sound like a  rationale!!), or start over with a different  prioritization technique like  pairwise ranking, advantage/disadvantage identification, nominal group   technique (the limited definition favored by TQM consultants, not the  full-blown technique), force field  analysis, or weighting and prioritizing.

### Linda S. (Sunny) Walker [sunwalker@igc.org] Wed 15/11/00 15:24

Most of the processes I use don't require dots -- and I've gravitated to NOT using them since often  when I've been a participant in dot voting, I think differently from others, my ideas from a brainstorm  don't get votes (or I vote for ones nobody else does) and I feel cut off and tend to stop participating. I  usually also feel a little railroaded.

So note, this isn't commentary about how many dots to use when, but when and why to use dots, if at  all.

I now realize my reaction was because we voted and moved on. (Kind of like you'd want a national  election to be!). I once voiced this to to facilitators during a demonstration of using computer-assisted  facilitation. Their comments were along the lines of NEVER using multi-voting to make a decision.   (On computers, you hope it's not dots. My granddaughter used my 33-cent stamps on my screen  once! :>) INSTEAD to use it to provoke dialogue over WHY the results were what they were, which  brings a lot more understanding. I suppose it also depends on how "hot" the topic is and why you are  voting.

One use is to quickly see where you already have agreement. (as I believe Bob Pike mentioned) and  then discuss the rest. As an example of bringing more understanding, I participated in using it recently  at an IAF ACT meeting (as in Association Coordinating Team, meaning the Board). We were looking  at the organization in terms of a model someone was sharing. We then went up and in each of the 4  quadrants of the model (which had about 5 levels each coming out from the center of the page), put a  red dot for where the organization is now and a green one for where we'd like it to be in 2 years.

The speckled result was amazing. The rest of our time (for this section of the day) was spent asking each other questions, like when all the dots in one place were green except for one red one, what was the person thinking? It was extremely revealing and many new insights surfaced.

Thanks for a chance to vent on this one.  I have at least come around to seeing how this technique  could be useful!

## How many dots to use

### Bob Pike BOBPIKECTT@aol.com Wed 15/11/00 13:44

Yes - we use the dots according to a formula called the 1/3 plus one rule. Regardless of the number of people each person gets dots based on the number of items on the list. 6 items, for example, 1/3 of 6 is 2 plus 1 equals 3 dots. 9 items - 1/3 equals 3 plus 1 equals 4 dots. People vote for the items most important to them, one dot per item. (You cannot give all your dots to one item. ***What really makes this work is to have a brief discussion of each item   before the voting begins, When the voting is concluded there are generally   several items that every has selected. It makes it fairly easy to accept   these unanimously as priorities. With those off the list you can then   further discuss the remaining items to choose additional priorities.   ***I've had a board of directors of 36 people build an entire strategic plan for the first time in 2 days using this process.

### Claire A. Murray [clamo88@flashcom.net] Wed 15/11/00 13:45

the only "rule of thumb" I can recall that might relate is that when you ask people to identify (or prioritise) a specific # of items, they tend to fall short by one (they can't come up with the last one or choose a "last one" among the remaining...), so if you want to get to 4 of something, ask for 5, etc.

### Cain, Ralph N. [RCAIN1@alleghenyenergy.com] Wed 15/11/00 17:28

I use a very (and I mean very) general Pareto process (80/20 rule) to determine how many dots to distribute to each person.  I take the total number, divide by 5 (20%) and this determines how many dots each person receives.  I get to provide a high level learning opportunity on the 80/20 Rule at the same time as we are doing an exercise to reduce to the key issues.

### Ingrid Price <ivmoe@interchange.ubc.ca> Wed, 15 Nov 2000 12:26:18

I have used that technique for years in workshops I run to allow participants to choose activities.  We call it "dotmocracy".  And I have always had people rank their top 3 preferences (so, 3 dots each).  If you give more out, it may be harder to find a difference between items voted for, however.  When I have done this with 3 dots, I am usually only looking to choose the top 2, or maybe 3 items.  Perhaps that could be the rule of thumb (the number of dots roughly equal to the number of items you will ultimately use in the workshop).  It would also depend on the number of options you were giving the group to choose among.  I would also expect that going below 3 dots if there are a fair number of items (no matter what number of items you choose) would be frustrating to the group.

### "Cain, Ralph N." <RCAIN1@alleghenyenergy.com> Wed, 15 Nov 2000 12:28

I use a very (and I mean very) general Pareto process (80/20 rule) to determine how many dots to distribute to each person.  I take the total number, divide by 5 (20%) and this determines how many dots each person receives.  I get to provide a high level learning opportunity on the 80/20 Rule at the same time as we are doing an exercise to reduce to the key issues.

### Wilko Jongman <wilkojon@worldonline.nl>Sat, 18 Nov 2000 10:08:34

Yes, there is (kind of ) a formula that I use: ABS(number of items to prioritize / number of participants) + 1

The usual reaction of the participant is that there are not enough dots available for them. The fact that they feel that way is an indication for me that they really do have to prioritize. An it almost always works out well.

### "William R. Duncan" <wrd@pmpartners.com>Sat, 18 Nov 2000 12:44:51 -0500

I would take "ABS" to mean the "absolute value" which doesn't make sense in this context since there are no negative numbers. Did you mean to round up?

How many dots do I get with 20 items and 10 people?

With 10 items and 20 people?

### Wilko Jongman <wilkojon@worldonline.nl>Sun, 19 Nov 2000 01:00:57 +0100

When the outcome of the first part of the formula is positive you round up.

If it is negative it automatically results in zero.

Thus your two examples would result in:

(20/10) + 1 = 3

(10/20) + 1 = (0) + 1 = 1

And for instance

(25 / 10) + 1 = (3) + 1 = 4

### Carrie Cohill [carrie_cohill@hotmail.com] Sun 19/11/00 15:03

In Weaver & Farrell's book "Managers as Facilitators" they have a page on  multi-voting.  Their guideline is that the number of votes for each group  member is equal to a third to a half of the total number of items on the  list. For example, if the list contains 30 items, then each person gets  10-15 votes.  Each member is given the same number of votes and told to give  more votes to the projects having the most impact on the group's purpose.   Set some guidelines for the maximum number of votes allowed per item. For  example, 15 votes could be distributed as follows: 5 for the first choice, 4  for the second choice, 3 for the third, 2 for the fourth, and 1 for the  fifth.

### Ned Ruete [nedruete@hotmail.com] Wed 15/11/00 13:52

I know this technique as "multivoting."  Sometimes I use dots or other  stickers, sometimes I just let people use markers and use the honor system  to make sure they don't use more than the alloted number of votes.  (But  then I count up to see if all the votes were used, or too many!  Interesting  to see group reaction -- but I digress.)

The official CSC Workshop and Facilitation Techniques course calls this N/3  -- take the number of items being voted on, divide by three, and that's how  many votes you get.  I find that too simplistic.  As you do, I vary the  number of votes based on the same factors.  I don't think there's a "theory"  or "rationale."  It's more like making a sandwich: you look at the bread,  meat, and cheese, and sort of "know" how much mustard to use.  If it doesn't  taste right, you adjust the amount next time.

I have often used "rounds" of multivoting.  What you're looking for is some  clear groupings: a few items with twice as many votes as there are voters,  another grouping with about 1/2 to 2/3 that number, another grouping with  one to three votes, and those that didn't get any.  If you don't get clear  break points that show which are the obvious high-priority items, you might  revote on the top half, or start over with a different number of votes  (usually to get the spread, more votes are needed to provide people with  enough to give a vote to each of the ones they think are important and a lot  of votes to their top choice -- hmm, that starts to sound like a  rationale!!), or start over with a different prioritization technique like  pairwise ranking, advantage/disadvantage identification, nominal group  technique (the limited definition favored by TQM consultants, not the  full-blown technique), force field analysis, or weighting and prioritizing.

Note that some people use multivoting or N/3 or voting by dots to pick the  top one.  That's not the purpose: the purpose is find the groupings of high,  medium, and low priority.  Also too restrictive is the tendency of some  people to label this a "problem solving" technique and use it only to pick  the high-priority problems to work on after identifying all possible  problems.

### Carlson, John [Carlson.John@principal.com] Wed 15/11/00 13:57

I too use colored dots for prioritization.  This is a weighted vote the group participates in.  I hand out 6 dots and tell people to assign (vote) 3 dots to the most important item in their judgement, 2 to the next most important and 1 dot to the third most important item.  They CANNOT vote all 6 for their top priority; they must distribute them among their top three!  It forces them to make some judgements and decisions.  Source: I have no idea!

## Variations on the method

### Deb Burnight DMB1953@aol.com Wed 15/11/00 13:27

When I have used sticky dots for prioritization, it has usually been for  action-planning.  I have generally used 4 dots...2 of one color and 2 of  another.  One color signifies an issue related to general prioritization; in  other words, "I think this is important.  People ought to care about this  issue."  The other color denotes commitment, i.e., "I am willing to  personally devote time and energy to this issue."  It quickly becomes clear  to a group which actions in a field of options have a valid chance of  becoming a reality...and also why some issues always seem to be a priority  but never get off the dime.  If the head says "yes, we should" but the heart  says "I don't want to," nothing ever happens.

## Interim Summary

### Mike Dennison <Michael.Dennison@icl.com>Thu, 16 Nov 2000 16:35:26 -0000

Thanks all for your stimulating and informative responses. A lot in a short time!

My very short summary to date (skimming only so far!) is:

* lots of you use dots or similar methods

* there are a number of variations, mainly to do with the purpose

* in general no firm rule on how many dots, pragmatism and experience rule

* some purposes/variations do determine how many

* concerns expressed over voting and its meaning

* concerns expressed over what happens next

I will collect the thread in a word doc, if anyone out there wants it (it will save you tidying it up) let me know by private email and I will send back when the flood of responses has dried.

I perhaps should have mentioned that "voting" or "dotting" as I usually use it is just one way of seeking a view from the group when faced with a list of items that need to be addressed and where too little time is available to give them all due attention during the workshop. I don't see it as a closing down process or one that discards the non-selected items but rather one of helping the group to focus its limited time on things it perceives as important.

My task is then to facilitate the next stage - what does it (the outcome of the dotting) all mean and does it help the group move forward and what do they want to do about the ones left over. Other uses - e.g. getting a high/medium/low priority grouping or establishing a ranking - will of course move forward with their own version of the process.

One more addition - I have sometimes (again depending on the purpose and the group's needs) have added different coloured dots to allow group members to express particular views, such as Must Dos or Mustn't Do (veto). Again this provides material for group consideration, they are not taken without exploration of why.

## Caveats and warnings - use voting with care!

### John Miller [jmiller@icacan.ca] Thu 16/11/00 04:14

Look how many people on the [GF] list had insights into dotmocracy/multivoting!

All those tips about how to make it work properly are really helpful. For anyone out there thinking about using multi-voting for the first time, save those emails and heed the advice!

Allow me add a different colour to the discussion...

Look at the use of multivoting from the other side for a moment, not as a facilitator or academic. My only experiences with multivoting AS A PARTICIPANT have been negative.

Why? Because voting is still voting, no matter how many dots you get.

Voting is not democracy;

Nor is it thinking things through;

Nor is it dialogue or participation.

Voting can only be a helpful, almost superficial tool to assist with making decisions. The greatest strength of voting is the ability to identify winners and losers. (Just ask Big Al and GW about their Florida experience.) As far as I'm concerned, creating losers is anethema to facilitation.

So let me offer two caveats regarding multivoting.

A) Use it sparingly, typically at either "end" of a decision:

1) to validate a decision that has been thought-through already and just needs legitimizing, or

2) as a light "tool" to initiate a more probing conversation. Don't leave participants thinking that multivoting is the end... Process/discuss what the dots visually illustrate for the group. B) Use it infrequently, so that participants don't have a chance to start "working the system," as with any traditional voting situation. Let it be a helpful novelty.

I'm not suggesting that multivoting not be used. Just be careful with it.

### Ned Ruete [nedruete@hotmail.com] Wed 15/11/00 13:52

Note that some people use multivoting or N/3 or voting by dots to pick the  top one.  That's not the purpose: the purpose is find the groupings of high,  medium, and low priority.  Also too restrictive is the tendency of some  people to label this a "problem solving" technique and use it only to pick  the high-priority problems to work on after identifying all possible  problems.

### Wayne Nelson <wnelson@icacan.ca>Wed, 15 Nov 2000 10:12:01 -0500

Voting with dots is often a good way to intensify a conversation and, to me, a rather unsatisfying way to finish one. All that work toward consensus and then to finish with a vote - seems like a bit more effort on the part of facilitator and the group would take the discussion to another level.

Using it after some options have been identified and discussed is a way of seeing taking a snapshot of the group mind in a somewhat objective manner.  The key seems to be having a very clear question and a dot system that is easy to use and difficult to manipulate.  In many ways, it doesn't matter precisely how you do it as long as it makes sense in the situation. You want it to reflect a genuine sense of "where the group is" at that point in the conversation.  It's like a "straw" poll.

Doing a count helps those members of a group who strive for order, rationality and fairness.  A discussion on what is revealed by the voting (or "marking") procedure can surface the deeper values, principles and criteria that can be used positively in enabling a group to get through to a consensus that has some real teeth in it. Marks or dots are a good way to out the second level reactions and responses that enable a group to get to substance.

No recounts - - - - please.

### Tom Flanagan TRflanagan@aol.comThu, 16 Nov 2000 08:43:21 EST

In the context of voting for importance of individual items within a complex set of inter-related items, a recent observation has been made that relates to the way individuals sense importance (see www.cwaltd.com/index1.htm and select "Identifying The Truly Effective Priorities In Complex Situations: The Erroneous Priorities Law").

My take on this new research is that we, as members of our species, do have an innate ability to collectively SENSE immediacy of some problems and bottlenecks generating additional problems, however, we do not appear to have an innate ability to collectively SENSE leverage.

In instances where a set of issues needs to be resolved as a unit, identifying and selecting highly leveraged items from the list may be argued to be of greatest aggregate priority.  For this reason, voting (while powerful and essential from a sociological context) may be misguiding if not framed to show the audience where the leverage across the system of issues lies.

(And here we are discussing the structure of the ballot, again??)

### Jon Jenkins [jon@imaginal.nl] Fri 17/11/00 02:53

I don't mind you using my contribution.  I would like to suggest that any voting method including dots is, in my mind, to be avoided if possible unless it is used to stimulate discussion;  It should not be used to make choices, in my opinion.  When it is used to make choices, it has the same problems of all forms of voting, minorities, win-lose, etc.  Part of the problem is that it tends to create the illusion of creating a satisfying result.

I believe going through the "struggle" of coming to a consensus is much more effective in the long run than reaching a decision.  I do use dots to test the waters but never for the purpose of choosing.  It can be used to clarify where issues are, where more work is needed to reach a consensus, etc.

When dots are used as a decision making method, it is always a way of selecting between alternatives.  There are many better ways of doing that.

### Bill Harris <bill_harris@facilitatedsystems.com>Mon, 20 Nov 2000 08:33:25 -0800

Sandy,

I like these two additions to the process.  The first has hints of stratification, a useful statistical technique, and Kepner-Tregoe weighting.  The second broadens out the field of view in an important area.

Having said that, I guess I'd caution about putting too much faith in the outcome of such dotting or voting.  Voting can give a quicker view into the energy of the group--what they think, where they're committed, but it doesn't necessarily give great results.  Read Doerner's _The Logic of Failure_ for examples of how we all can be misled by our gut feelings.

I do use dotting and other voting techniques to get a sense of the group, and I think "better" voting techniques are preferable to "worse" voting techniques, but I suspect there's a limit beyond which increased accuracy in capturing people's feelings is overshadowed by underlying challenges in working through the issues.  That doesn't say the participatory aspect disappears and we leave the rest to the "experts"; it may say we need to involve other expert processes which are focused on the system, not just people's impressions of the system.

### Frank Patrick <fpatrick@focusedperformance.com>Mon, 20 Nov 2000 14:19:27 -

I came back recently from a long vacation and in haste to clean up my email database, trashed a lot of stuff unread. As the dotty voting topic goes on and on, not unlike the one in Florida, I wish I looked at the early discussion. I've written before in this forum on my distaste for voting and multi-voting as a solution to most issues faced by facilitated groups. Once we start involving complex formulae, weighting factors, etc., we are far too open to getting an answer that most of the people are still not happy with. (hmmm -- again like Florida, I fear.)

Too often, voting, multi-voting or similar decision processes do not rely on the logic of the situation as much as on the emotion of the group, and often result in the selection of a solution that the team is willing to take on, or wants to take on, or thinks the boss wants to hear, rather than one that should be taken on because its elimination can be logically demonstrated to lead to the desired effect(s).

In the three questions that management, or a team, or an individual has to answer about a situation...

What to change?

<http://www.focusedperformance.com/what-to.html>

To what to change to?

<http://www.focusedperformance.com/to-what.html>

How to make the change happen?

<http://www.focusedperformance.com/how-to.html>

...the most important, and too often, the one given the least attention is the first one -- WHAT TO CHANGE. Voting usually focuses on solutions - the to-what's and how-to's without giving due respect to the core issues that need to be addressed.

If I have to choose, I'll take logic over democracy any day, in a problem solving situation. If the logic is good, the collaboration will come without voting.

## Experience using dots

### Linda S. (Sunny) Walker [sunwalker@igc.org] Wed 15/11/00 15:24

One use is to quickly see where you already have agreement. (as I believe Bob Pike mentioned) and then discuss the rest. As an example of bringing more understanding, I participated in using it recently at an IAF ACT meeting (as in Association Coordinating Team, meaning the Board). We were looking at the organization in terms of a model someone was sharing. We then went up and in each of the 4 quadrants of the model (which had about 5 levels each coming out from the center of the page), put a red dot for where the organization is now and a green one for where we'd like it to be in 2 years.

The speckled result was amazing. The rest of our time (for this section of the day) was spent asking each other questions, like when all the dots in one place were green except for one red one, what was the person thinking? It was extremely revealing and many new insights surfaced.

## Web and online use

### Nancy White <nancyw@fullcirc.com>Wed, 15 Nov 2000 07:17:53 -0800

"Dot Technique" has long been a favorite technique of mine because it creates a visual element to the voting/prioritizing/selection process which has helped me many times.

As we move online, I've been experimenting on how to use it online, but have not been satisfied.

Has anyone taken the "voting with dots" technique and figured an effective way to use it online in web-based discussion areas?

### Bernie DeKoven <bernie@coworking.com>Wed, 15 Nov 2000 08:31:25 -0800

Has anyone taken the "voting with dots" technique and figured an effective way to use it online in web-based discussion areas?

Bernie DeKoven replies:

Actually, as a matter of fact, if webconferencing and group whiteboards are considered "web-based", then, well, yes, most definitely.

What I like about the DOTS exercise is that it gets people talking to each other. It gets them off their individual perspectives and mingling amongst the merry multitudes.

I've found a similar affect when using a poll (live, interactive, real-time polling like that offered by PlaceWare and WebEx etc.) and electing to show people the results of their votes as they are voting (usually you keep this information hidden until the poll is closed). I like to keep it open for maybe 5 minutes, letting people change their vote as often as they want until the discussions are over. This seems to work very nicely in a most dot-like manner. I can run several polls in sequence if I need further refinement, though usually one every 15 minutes keeps things going.

Using a shared whiteboard -- one that allows all participants to use the mark-up capabilities simultaneously, you can get similarly dot-related conversations going.

### Bill Harris <bill_harris@facilitatedsystems.com>Wed, 15 Nov 2000 10:55:46 -0800

Bernie, Nancy,

I was about to suggest things like the PlaceWare voting, too, when I realized it missed one vital part of dotmocracy we don't have in US national elections (with hopefully very limited exceptions): casting multiple votes for one issue.   I see how you can do that with a shared whiteboard, but have you found a way to do that with PlaceWare's (or Astound's or ...) voting that's effective in letting someone place all their emphasis on one spot or spreading it around on multiple?

And I agree: the important part is the dialog it surfaces, not necessarily the numerical winner.

### Bernie DeKoven <bernie@coworking.com>Wed, 15 Nov 2000 12:18:43 -0800

No. PlaceWare, Astound voting allow you only to create single choice votes. But it's easy to create more on-the-fly. I agree, it's only a virtual approximation of true dotting.

### Ned Ruete <nedruete@hotmail.com>Thu, 16 Nov 2000 08:13:17 EST

Bernie DeKoven <bernie@coworking.com>

No. PlaceWare, Astound voting allow you only to create single choice votes. But it's easy to create more on-the-fly. I agree, it's only a virtual approximation of true dotting.

I was thinking, if you had key pads, you could give everyone three key pads.   I'm sure there's something analogous for other systems, like giving everyone multiple logins.

### Tony Wong <TonyWong@uniserve.com>Sat, 18 Nov 2000 13:21:25 -0800

At Wednesday 15-11-00 07:17 -0800, Nancy White  wrote:

> As we move online, I've been experimenting on how to use it online, but have not been satisfied.

> Has anyone taken the "voting with dots" technique and figured an effective way to use it online in web-based discussion areas?

Hi everyone,

Regarding using dotmocracy online, I recently facilitated a group where we did much of our work over the Internet by email, an Internet discussion forum (www.ezboard.com), and by conference call. We used a dot-like process as well. All the online work was done asynchronously, with people working on their own time and responding to tasks by a deadline. We were never on-line all at the same time. I'm not sure about Nancys experimenting--was it with realtime Internet forums and all participants logged on at the same time?

In our process, the group had come up with 55 potential issues for a multi-million \$ investment program. The 55 issues fell into 6 groups. One of our tasks was to come to consensus on the highest priority issues. So we used dotmocracy to get an idea of people's preferences for priorities.

The interesting departure from the N/3 rule was that I wanted to get some really good discrimination between the high and low priority issues. There were 7 voting members on the planning team: 5 from industry and 2 from government. I assigned a total of 1,000 dots or points, with industry getting 500 (100 each person) and government getting 500 (250 each).

The rules were: a) spend all your point allocation, b) no more than 25% of your total points in any of the 6 major heading groups, and c) no more than 5% of your total points on any one issue. Rule (b) was so we had top priorities in each of the 6 heading groups and none of the 6 group headings would be eliminated. Rule (c) was so that one person could not load points on one pet issue and give it more prominence than warranted across the group. Rule (c) was specific to this particular process. In other processes,  I haven't used rule (c).

To carry out the assignment of dots or points, I distributed a spreadsheet with the 55 issue titles arranged in a column. The voters allocated their points in the adjacent column. There were additional "check-sum" columns to give people instant feedback on how many points they had spent and the distribution of their points so they didn't violate our 3 rules. And the spreadsheet had a page for instructions.

People sent me their points allocations and after collating them, I distributed the results, using the same spreadsheet layout. The resulting points distribution led us into a discussion of people's comfort with the outcome--were there any surprises, any anomalies?  On reviewing the voting outcome, we agreed to drop any issues that received less than 15 points. In the 15-20 point range, there was clear gap (discriminant analysis?).  As others have written, the voting was just to get an idea of the group's preferences without anyone committing to the outcome of the vote (hmmm, Florida?).

In this case, total time for the voting process was about a week, mainly because each of the 7 planning team members needed to consult with their constituencies and hold their own planning meetings to "spend" their points. Once I received their points spreadsheet, I turned out the collated version and written analysis within a couple of hours, then posted them on the internet discussion forum.

### Malcolm Dell <malcolmd@moscow.com>Sun, 19 Nov 2000 22:49:56 -0800

Nancy White  wrote:

Has anyone taken the "voting with dots" technique and figured an Effective  way to use it online in web-based discussion areas?

www.zaplets.com has some interesting tools (although somewhat simple and limited) for short turnaround asynchronous uses.

A) You can use the Advanced Poll feature to select up to 12 options that any size group can vote on, and you provide all members (via email) of the group from one to 12 "dots" or votes. Downside, participants cannot use more than one dot (vote) on an alternative. And of course, this only works if you are priotizing 12 or less alternatives. A nice feature is that you can also show the results in a pie or bar chart, AND you can specify if the results are available to the entire group, AND if the voting is anonymous or open.

B) Zaplets also has a spreadsheet feature you can use for assigning tasks and other items.

C) Another feature is the brainstorm/discussion zaplets which allow everyone to comment on a single problem or idea and even provide attachments up to 2 MB. Rather than having to run down a multitude of comments in a typical listserv or egroup, they are all in one place or "post", grouped together in one file (sort of;-), which makes for some convenience.

## Extending the technique

### James Murphy <James.Murphy@ci.boston.ma.us>Wed, 15 Nov 2000 13:08:33 -

Gayle Gifford wrote:

I always wonder in multivoting why people choose what they do - and are they making the best decisions.

I have an interest which I believe is similar. I am about to conduct a vote based on submissions to an employee idea generation program. The concern is how to determine which ideas are "best" to work on. Obviously there are problems such as people supporting ideas without commitment to working on them, balancing between specific and general ideas, allowing support for "minority" ideas that some people might be allowed to work on, etc., etc.

I had originally thought of a ballot with five choices: (1) Yes, do it; (2) Yes, and make it a priority; (3) Yes, and I will volunteer to work on it; (4) Maybe, let's get together and talk about it; (5) Maybe, but I need to hear more to understand and evaluate it; (5) No, don't do it.   Pre-testing has tended to confirm the obvious here: this is too complicated.

I therefore thought that there should be a Yes-Maybe-No initial vote and then some follow-up votes. Ideas and advice on how to conduct such multivoting would be welcome. There figure to be between 100 and 200 ideas, and there are 24 voters. I do want to begin with unedited ideas (so that people can see that ever idea submitted was considered), which means that repetition is a problem and prioritization is even more difficult.

### Ned Ruete <nedruete@hotmail.com>Wed, 15 Nov 2000 13:53:32 EST

James Murphy <James.Murphy@ci.boston.ma.us  wrote:

I do want to begin with unedited ideas (so that  people can see that every idea submitted was considered), which means that  repetition is a problem and prioritization is even more difficult.

With any form of voting or multivoting for prioritization, repetition of ideas is a danger because it will dilute the votes for ideas that are repeated.  A couple of things you could try:

Do an affinity.  Put all the ideas on cards or sticky notes or whatever and have the "voters" put them in groups, then multi vote on the groups.  THis is probably the fastest way to deal with a large number of ideas.

Put all the ideas on flip charts, let people read them, then let them suggest which ones should be combined.  Get consensus on the combining. Watch the group dynamic: are there some people trying to get unrelated ideas combined so they get more votes?  Are there others fighting a natural grouping so the vote for an idea they don't like is diluted?

Use nominal group technique (again, the limited definition).  If there are 100 ideas, everyone gets a list of the 100 ideas, each lettered "a" through "zzzv" (I think that works out to 100) and a sheet with the letters "a" through "zzzv" on it.  Each person gives each idea a number from one to 100 -- each number only used once, one for the most important idea and 100 for the least important (I've never tried this with more than 15 to 20 ideas. THeoretically it should work, but you might have to give the participants a lot of time to work it out.  You might want to give them a sheet with the numbers 1 to 100 that they can "tick off" when they've used a number).  Then total up the numbers put next to each idea -- you might need a spreadsheet and someone to help with data entry.  (Bernie et.al.: any ideas for automated tools here?)  The idea with the lowest number is the highest priority.  Theoretically, even if ideas overlap or are repetitive, if they are high priority, they will each get a low number.  That will solve the repetition problem.  Then you can take the high-priority ideas and do some grouping.

### Sandor P Schuman <sschuman@csc.albany.edu>Wed, 15 Nov 2000 14:29:50 -

On Wed, 15 Nov 2000, James Murphy  wrote:

I had originally thought of a ballot with five choices: (1)   Yes, do it; (2) Yes, and make it a priority; (3) Yes, and I   will volunteer to work on it; (4) Maybe, let's get together   and talk about it; (5) Maybe, but I need to hear more to   understand and evaluate it; (6) No, don't do it.  Pre-testing   has tended to confirm the obvious here: this is too   complicated.

This ballot represents different types of cognitive tasks:

a) approval or dissaproval (combined with relative importance)    (choices 1, 2, and 6)

b) allocation of personal resources (choice 3)

In general it is beneficial to differentiate cognitive tasks and to avoid tackling more than one at a time.  This basic idea is one of the fundamental strengths of Nominal Group Technique and many other group facilitation procedures.

### Sandor P Schuman <sschuman@csc.albany.edu>Wed, 15 Nov 2000 14:42:29

On Wed, 15 Nov 2000, Ned Ruete  wrote:

Use nominal group technique (again, the limited definition).   If there are 100 ideas, everyone gets a list of the 100 ideas,   each lettered "a" through "zzzv" (I think that works out to   100) and a sheet with the letters "a" through "zzzv" on it.   Each person gives each idea a number from one to 100 -- each   number only used once, one for the most important idea and 100   for the least important

Ned noted his use of the "limited definition" of Nominal Group Technique (NGT).  Perhaps the specific procedures of NGT are relevant to this discussion.  As described in the original article NGT is a six stage process which carefully separates major cognitive tasks:

1) Silent generation of ideas.

2) Round robin recording.

3) Serial discussion.

4) Preliminary vote.

5) Serial discussion of the master list

a. Clarification

b. Discussion of the preliminary vote and relative importance

6) Final vote

The manner of conducting the vote is similar to what Ned described but limited to assessing the priority of the top five items.

Delbecq, Andre L., Van de Ven, Andrew H., and Gustafson, David H. (1986).  Guidelines for conducting NGT meetings.  In Delbecq, Andre L., Van de Ven, Andrew H., and Gustafson, David H., Group Techniques for Program Planning:  A guide to Nominal Group and Delphi Processes.  Middleton WI:  Greenbriar Press.

### "Ramsey, Kyle W" <kyle.w.ramsey@intel.com>Wed, 15 Nov 2000 13:41:26 -0800

When I am faced with these long lists, I sometimes use a technique borrowed from the equipment reliability field called FMEA (Failure Modes and Effects Analysis).  One of my current fears is that brainstorming data is more and more becoming "The Data" for projects and initiatives, versus my training that teaches brainstorming data can suggest where to go look first, but still requires the rigor of data examination.  One way I combat this is using FMEA.

The technique works very well with lists above 25 items, and begins to lose something when it gets to around 100 (I think).  Anyway, we make a simple column list of each item, then assign 3-6 other columns to contain the next layer of granularity to the brainstorm data.  These columns will contain the features desired by the problem solving team such as speed of implementation, cost, human resources required, benefit or impact, ease of maintenance, return on investment, etc.  Basically whatever you value for decision making.  Caveat here:  After 3 columns of features, each column's individual strength begins to wane; beyond 5 columns, no single column will carry much weight at all.

I generally assign a common Likert-like scale to each feature, using 1 through 5.  For instance, a 1 would cost more than \$10k, a 2 \$10k-5k, a 3 \$5k-1K, a 4 \$1k-500, a 5 less than \$500.  Once again, the team can choose some levels of greater sensitivity to give more (or less) weight to a feature than others.  Cost may be a minor factor (yeah, right) and we can set the scale to give a high value (5) even if the cost is high (a 5 becomes less than \$5K vs. less than \$500), or we may require a fast ROI, thus making a 5 there equal to a less than 6 month ROI versus a 1 year ROI if ROI were less important.

Lately I've added one more column.... there is usually at least one champion for each idea on the list, so I ask the team to decide on a confidence level, expressed in percentage ("I'm 60% confident on that one, folks.") that the stated benefit will be realized.  This way, a fancy idea with little chance of real success loses some weight (still experimenting with this one to see the unintended consequences).  The factor is still just a SWAG, but I also use it as a learning tool to make each pass through the tool better, so we review those intervals and how right we were.

The last column is called the RPN (for Risk Priority Number, that reliability thing), which is the sum total of the other columns, multiplied by the confidence interval for that item.  Using the highest values as the 'best' ideas to go after first, this creates a prioritized list of your items. You should do a physical check of the list to make sure nothing inadvertently was omitted, for closure.

Yes, I am an engineer.

I have a simple EXCEL spreadsheet I have used to roll up the data and will respond favorably to private requests for it.

### Sandor P Schuman <sschuman@csc.albany.edu>Thu, 16 Nov 2000 13:53:11 -0500

On Wed, 15 Nov 2000, Ramsey, Kyle W  wrote:

When I am faced with these long lists, I sometimes use a technique borrowed from the equipment reliability field called FMEA (Failure Modes and Effects Analysis).

The method Kyle described is a form of multiple-criteria decision making, which is a field of study that overlaps with the fields of decision analysis and decision modeling.  See for example the International Society on Multiple Criteria Decision Making http://www.mit.jyu.fi/MCDM/homepage.html

There are a number of software packages that are designed for this type of analysis, for example:

Logical Decisions

http://www.logicaldecisions.com/

Hiview

http://actinic.easyspace.com/acatalog/enterprise_lse_co_ukq/

... These columns will contain the features desired by the > problem solving team such as speed of implementation, cost,  human resources required, benefit or impact, ease of  maintenance, return on investment, etc. ...

In such analyses it is often useful to separate "benefit" and "cost" criteria.  There may be multiple benefit criteria, which may be integrated via differential weighting, and multiple cost criteria, which may be integrated via differential weighting. The aggregated benefit score and the aggregated cost score may be integrated in the form of a benefit/cost ratio.

These approaches are extremely valuable in complex and controversial situations and where multiple types of expertise come into play.

### Sandor P Schuman <sschuman@csc.albany.edu>Mon, 20 Nov 2000 10:01:29 -0500

On Sat, 18 Nov 2000, Tony Wong  wrote:

The 55 issues fell into 6 groups.

The following alternative approach is complex and is useful only to manage a similarly complex situation.  It is particularly well suited to situations where each sub-group has special expertise that makes it legitimate for them to work on their own categories. Also, it requires a tolerance for using numbers to express subjective values and tradeoffs.

Each category is assigned to a sub-group.  Each sub-group arranges the items in its category in priority order.  They express the relative importance of the items more thoroughly by distributing 100 points among the items.  The highest priority items should receive the most points.

The subgroups report back to the large group, explaining the items and their priority.  The large group then determines the relative importance of the categories.  The relative importance of each category is expressed numerically.  To determine the relative importance of each item, the points for each of the items within a category are multiplied by the relative weight of the category.

A further elaboration of this technique is to estimate the cost for each item.  Costs can be actual dollars or staff time, and/or subjective estimates of "costs."  With this additional information, priorities can be proposed based on the ratio of benefits to costs.  The purpose is to make resource allocation decisions based not only on what is most important or beneficial, but also on the amount of resources that will be required.

For example, it might be more effective for an organization to invest in a large number of initiatives that have very high benefit/cost ratios, not because their benefit scores are relatively high, but because their costs are relatively low. Without this kind of analysis, an organization might invest in one, or a very few, high priority but costly initiatives that will consequently consume all of the available resources.

Most prioritization exercises focus on the "benefit" or "importance" aspects of the available alternatives.  It is extremely valuable to give as much attention to the costs.

## Miscellany

### Jon Jenkins <jon@imaginal.nl>Wed, 15 Nov 2000 15:50:42 +0100

Just an observation.  When I lead a group in organizing a brainstormed list, when about 1/3 of the list is in clusters no new clusters develop usually. So maybe there is a "rationale".

### Jon Jenkins <jon@imaginal.nl>Wed, 15 Nov 2000 15:54:47 +0100

Deb  wrote:

When I have used sticky dots for prioritization, I have  generally used 4 dots...2 of one color and 2 of another.  One color signifies  an issue related to general prioritization; in other words, "I think this is important.  People ought to care about this issue."  The other color denotes commitment,  i.e., "I am willing to personally devote time and energy to this issue." It  quickly becomes clear to a group which actions in a field of options have a  valid chance of becoming a reality...and also why some issues always seem to  be a priority but never get off the dime.  If the head says "yes, we should"  but the heart says "I don't want to," is it any wonder progress can be slow going?

This is useful.  Any pair of values can be done this way.  In fact, more than 2 values can be done.  Of course, be careful that the number doesn't create more confusion.

### Gayle Gifford <Ceffect@aol.com>Wed, 15 Nov 2000 11:43:01 EST

Deb,

I appreciate your clarification of the two levels of prioritization. I always wonder in multivoting why people choose what they do - and are they making the best decisions. Or, the issue that only one person votes for, but that person is the one with all of the energy and drive and passion for moving that item forward, and the item itself seems to be the most strategic choice. How do others balance the power of the vote against choosing the most strategic issues, actions, needs driven by the data?

### Sally J McLean <sjmclean@home.com>Wed, 15 Nov 2000 12:27:20 -0500

BTW, I'm not sure where the name came from, but we call this process 'dotmocracy'.

### "James P. Troxel" <Troxel@ConsultMillennia.com>Thu, 16 Nov 2000 08:53:52 -0600

Have they tried these dots business in Florida?

[Sorry, couldn't resist]

### Alan Klein <Alan@Klein.Net>Mon, 20 Nov 2000 14:31:59 -0500

Bill Harris Having said that, I guess I'd caution about putting too much faith in the outcome of such dotting or voting.  Voting can give a quicker view

I agree. A wise person once told me, "After your group votes (dots, etc.), run the result by your brains. Even though you have been "objective", the result may not make any sense!"

End