Card Collection

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Brief Description

Card collection is a facilitated process that involves the use of cards to gather ideas from people, especially where a diversity of answers is expected. Useful for groups between 12 - 20, larger groups may be sub-divided into smaller groups. Starting with a question, ideas are captured onto cards and later clustered based on similarities. Once these clusters are labelled, they can be prioritized or elaborated on further.


Card collection is described by Neill McKee (former Chief, PCIS, UNICEF Bangladesh) with Dr. Hermann Tillman and Dr. Maria Salas in their Visualization in Participatory Programs Manual (1993) used during planning processes for social mobilization and communication in UNICEF-supported programmes in Bangladesh. Using a combination of facilitation tools, VIPP has its roots from Latin America and Germany. These are derived from key works by Paulo Freire, Orlando Fals Borda and Eberhard Schnelle (Metaplan) among others.

When to use

  • To quickly generate ideas from participants
  • In groups that are diverse or have diverse opinions on an issue
  • When hierarchies are present

Sam Kaner in his book Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision Making:

  • When a group has finished a brainstorming process, they often want to categorize the resulting list of items. This is natural. Most people cannot hold long lists in their head; they get overwhelmed. The group has to find some way of reducing the list to manageable number of items. Creating categories is a relatively challenging task for a group, because people don’t easily reach agreement on the meaning or the importance of a given category. Therefore, the task takes time. Sorting, on the other hand, is comparatively straightforward once the categories are well defined.

How to use

  • Pin board
  • Map pins
  • Flipchart paper
  • Rectangular cards, colour coded (10 x 20 cm)
  • Marker pens

  • Participants seated in a semi-circle with enough space for card clustering

  • Facilitator writes out the question that needs to be answered on a flipchart and explains clearly that participants are required to think about the question and come up with some ideas.
  • She distributes the same number of rectangular cards to each participant to write their ideas on. Only one card per idea is allowed. For groups of 20 participants, limit the number to no more than 2 cards for each participant. This ensures that the process does not take too long. If more than one question is asked, this becomes a new category and will need cards of a different colour. (Note: Decide on a colour code and provide a specific coloured card for each category. Remember that each category will need to go through the clustering process and this may become tedious after some time, so think about the number of categories you want)
  • Give participants time to think about the question and write their answers on the cards individually. (Tip: see rules of card writing below)
  • Once completed, the facilitator can either collect the cards (writing face down) and shuffle them. Or ask participants to place the cards facing down on the floor in the middle of the room. (Preserve anonymity)
  • Facilitator then picks a card at random, shows it to participants and reads the content. (Note: The cards are meant to be anonymous, so in cases where cards are unclear and clarity is required, the group discusses and re-writes the card if needed. Unless the writer of the card identifies himself voluntarily)
  • The facilitator pins the card on the pin board. She repeats this process with a second card from the same category/ colour code. Pin the cards apart and ask participants to decide if the cards are closely associated and can be pinned in the same cluster. This process is repeated for each card in one category until all cards are pinned up. (Note: cards with the same ideas are not discarded. They are a reflection of the importance of the idea)
  • Participants are asked to review and revise the clusters again if needed.
  • The facilitator tidies up each cluster, and asks participants to create a title/ label for each cluster.
  • These clusters can be prioritized further in a variety of ways. The easiest would be to ask participants to vote on the clusters that they feel are most important and need urgent attention. This is known as the Single-dot question which allows participants to quickly express their opinions on a set of idea clusters, a scale or a matrix. ( See a related process, Dotmocracy.)

Participants expressed their expectations at the beginning of a workshop

card sorting.jpg
Expectations are clustered into groups

Rules for card writing:
  • Think before you write
  • Only one idea per card, and no more than 3 lines per card
  • Use keywords, instead of full sentences
  • Write in upper and lower case (as seen in this phrase)
  • Use the broader side of the marker pen tip

Tips and Lessons Learnt

(add yours)
Lessons from a training session at FAO:
  • Formulate the question to ensure there is no ambiguity in its interpretation
  • Consider sending the question to participants in advance so they have time to prepare
  • Inform participants beforehand that the meeting will be interactive

Examples & Stories

(add your story)

Who can tell me more?

  • Meena Arivananthan (meena.arivananthan [at]
  • Gauri Salokhe (gauri.salokhe [at]
  • Simone Staiger (s.staiger [at]

Related Methods / Tools / Practices


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(URLs, photos, podcasts)


Card collection, VIPP, facilitation, idea generation, card clustering, affinity diagrams, brainstorming

Photo or image credits


Page Authors

  • Meena Arivananthan (Meena.Arivananthan [at]