Alternate Version: PDF version (10 pages, 78 KB) 2016272guide_assumptionseng.pdf
OBJECTIVE: TO IDENTIFY THE POLICY ASSUMPTIONS IN A GIVEN DOMAIN
This is a quick brainstorming exercise. In about 35 minutes of discussion, a group of 20 participants can generate roughly 40–50 assumptions.
People:
 1 facilitator
 15–25 participants
 1–2 assistants/”runners” (optional)
 1 notetaker (optional)
Materials:
 Finetip marker for each participant
 8” x 6” sticky notes—Large enough to
 fit 8 words (at least 3 per participant)
 Projector/computer (optional)
Post on the wall:
 Poster with assumptions question (optional)
 A visual agenda (optional)
 Rules of engagement (optional)
 2 headings on sticky notes (optional): What worked? What could be better?
Meeting Space: A large room with a blank wall to post assumptions (or several flipcharts). Seating for all conducive to both hearing other participants and seeing.
TIME  ACTIVITY 

5 MIN  1. General meeting instructions (if needed) 
35 MIN  2. Give context for the assumptions exercise (4 minutes) 3. Provide instructions for the exercise (6 minutes) 4. Discussion: round up assumptions (20 minutes) 5. Summarize points of assumptions exercise (5 minutes) 
10 MIN  6. Reflect on and/or evaluate the exercise 
EST. TOTAL TIME: 50 MINUTES
Before the Meeting
Prepare the room
 Each participant will need a chair, writing surface and a clear sightline to the wall where assumptions will be posted using sticky notes. If assumptions will be voted on at the end (see option B at the end of this guide), consider using several movable flip charts to collect assumptions instead of a single wall.
 For a larger group (e.g. 25), seating participants facing each other around a single large table(s) can help to ensure all are seen and heard. With a large group and room, it is also a good idea to have 1–2 runners who can support the facilitator by collecting the sticky notes and arranging them on the wall. Alternatively, you may want to break out into smaller groups, in which case you would need a facilitator for each breakout group.
 Develop and post in the room any visual aids that will be referred to in the meeting.
 Ensure each participant has 3 large sticky notes, with extras close at hand. Sticky notes should be large enough to clearly fit about 8 words.
Alternative to sticky notes: If there is a projector in the room, a notetaker can type the assumptions that participants raise in the meeting. Allowing participants to review and reformulate assumptions as they are being recorded works well. This is a good choice if the assumptions activity is one of several facilitated activities in a day involving sticky notes. Sticky note activities are interactive and fun in small doses, but sticky note fatigue is real.
ACTIVITY  NOTES 

1. General meeting introductions (if needed) (5 minutes)


2. Give context for the assumptions exercise (4 minutes)


3. Provide activity instructions (6 minutes)


4. Discussion: round up assumptions (20 minutes)
Suggestions:


5. Summarize points of assumptions exercise (5 minutes)


6. Reflect on and/or evaluate the exercise (10 minutes)


ADDONS TO THE ASSUMPTIONS EXERCISE
Below are two optional but very helpful steps that support the goal of collecting assumptions:
 prompting assumptions in advance of the meeting with a questionnaire; and
 after the brainstorming activity, asking participants to vote on the most important assumptions.
OPTION A: Ask for assumptions in advance of the meeting with a questionnaire An assumptions questionnaire sent in advance of the meeting can be an easy way to build rapport with participants and create interest in the meeting to come. In this module, the document “Preworkshop questionnaire for participants: Gathering assumptions” provides an example of how an assumptions email questionnaire could be framed. Whether participants are expected to reply with their responses in advance or simply be ready to share them at the meeting, there are a few benefits of issuing a homework exercise in advance:
 It helps participants prepare for the meeting by engaging with the content early.
 Repetition of the assumptions concept (in advance, then at the meeting) improves understanding and retention.
 If the results are collected in advance, this can help the facilitator to anticipate meeting topics, possible problems and strategic points to highlight.
Even if the facilitator collects responses in advance, they don’t necessarily need to use them in the meeting; simply instruct participants to bring their best assumptions to the meeting (they’ll also think of new ones, and that’s fine). The point of the homework exercise in this case is simply to prepare participants and the facilitator. This works very well.
If the facilitator plans to use the list in the meeting, they will have an opportunity to review the list with the group and ask them to fill in gaps to arrive at a more comprehensive set of assumptions. Assumptions homework is not recommended as a substitute for an assumptions discussion at the meeting (it is not a time saver). Participants will want to review the results generated by others— and with fresh ideas, they will generate additional assumptions. This still takes time (nearly as long as the basic assumptions exercise), but it is worth the result. If you skip this step, participants may not buy in to followup activities.
OPTION B: After collecting assumptions, vote on the most important, “strategic” assumptions (5–10 minutes)
After 40 or so assumptions are generated, it is often helpful to evaluate which assumptions are the most critical to the system. This provides ideas of where participants can prioritize their attention, for example when scanning. It also allows the group to nominate the assumptions that should be tested against scenarios later in the process.
At the end of an assumptions activity, we will often ask the group to dotvote for the most important assumptions using sticky dots. (The assistants have already clustered related assumptions; they should also consider whether any can be combined or removed in order to prevent unnecessary votesplitting.) To place their votes, participants are asked to consider the following question:
 “Which assumptions are most central to policy makers, for the system we’ve described?”
 “That is, a lot rides on these assumptions for one or both of these reasons:
 the assumption underpins the policy context of a lot of issues
 if the assumption turned out to be wrong, it would necessitate a significant adjustment”
Each participant is given 5 dot stickers. They are invited to peruse the assumptions wall at their own pace and distribute their dots to the most important assumptions. (The choice of weighting the 5 is up to them: they can place one dot on each of their top 5 or 5 dots on a single important assumption, or anything in between.)
When time is up, the facilitator can briefly highlight a few of the assumptions that were prioritized with a greater number of dots and remind participants that these are good themes to monitor when looking for signs of disruptive change affecting the system.
Notes:
 For a large group of participants, it may be preferable to gather the assumptions on several movable flip charts rather than on a single wall. At the voting stage, the flip charts can then be spaced out around the room to improve the flow of participant movement. In this case, divide the room into groups to assign each to a flip chart to begin their review, then move on to others (e.g. if 3 flip charts, separate into 3 groups).
 To help participants manage reading the volume of results, it is helpful if assumptions are clustered somewhat thematically. This is best done by the runners as they collect assumptions, and can be further refined during a break if it is available. The themes can be divided among the flipcharts.
 If there isn’t time for participants to circulate across all the assumptions, it is ok, as long as they are starting at different points: this voting exercise will still give an approximate indication of importance. Some assumptions won’t have any dots, others will attract many.
BUILDING A FORESIGHT WORKSHOP: COMPLEMENTARY ACTIVITIES TO CONSIDER
For facilitators with multiple objectives for a foresight workshop, below are a few suggestions for activities that would pair well with the assumptions exercise.
Before the exercise:
 Deliver the Assumptions presentation.
 Establish the domain using a Domain map exercise (see module 4).
After the exercise:
 Deliver the assumptions reversal exercise to assess the credibility of some of the common policy assumptions identified by the group.
 Deliver the cascade diagram exercise (with option A: weak signal activity) and then return to test whether any of the findings from these exercises would challenge any of the assumptions.