In this episode we’re going to explore a way of finding out some information about your audience while getting them moving. This can work in large or small groups and is a great way of mixing people up and increasing the energy in the room. It’s a really simple exercise, and done well, it can get people really engaged, asking questions and having some fun. Best of all, you get to know your audience which you can then use to your advantage. What are we talking about? Sociometry!
Sociometry helps you measure or determine relationships between individuals in a group. There are two common methods used: a line-up (or continuum) and groups (or categories). As facilitators we often use these to prepare the participants for actions they are about to do, or to indicate their agreement for a particular decision.
A line-up, or human continuum, is a really useful tool to have in your enablers of change toolbox. The idea is that you get people to line-up between two points in the room. The points at either end represent the extremes, and in between them is the range of views that are possible. The simplest line-up that we have used is getting people to line up according to the date and month of their birthday. For example, the 6th March. What tends to happen is that people get up and someone says, I’m March, when are you? And someone else says, “Oh, I’m August so I’d better move down the line”… and before you know it, they have themselves lined up in order. This allows you to break people into smaller random groups based on where they are standing and it provides a way of getting people to introduce themselves. It also increases the energy level in the room so can be a great thing to do after lunch breaks or when you sense that the energy level is decreasing. Sometimes we have used this towards the beginning of a presentation and ask participants to line-up based on their experience or knowledge about the topic we are about to discuss. The results then really help us know where to pitch the presentation.
You can also use the line-up to help explore decisions. You can get people to line up based on whether they like or dislike something, such as an idea that was proposed, and then get people to share why they stood where they did.
Another way of prompting interaction and discussion is to ask people to fold the line in half, on itself, and invite people to pair up with someone across the line and discuss why they were standing where they were. This is a great way of getting discussion happening and helps the extreme ends of the line to better understand why someone else stood at a different point on the line.
You can also use a line-up to evaluate how a workshop is going. For example, at the end of day one of a two-day workshop you could get people to line up based on whether they’ve been learning things or enjoying the discussion, and get them to briefly explain why they are standing where they are. This can help you understand what might need to be covered on day two, and also gives participants a chance to hear how the workshop is going for others.
It is possible to do this exercise with very large groups of people – you just need to make sure you have enough space for people to line-up! It is worth checking the venue beforehand so you know that it is possible, and then you do not have to quickly replan the exercise on the day!
The other common sociometry method is using groups or categories. This can be a good getting-to-know-you activity or mixer. For example, you can ask people to cluster together based on the industry they work with. You can either nominate the categories (such as beef, sheep, grain etc) or leave it to them to self-organise. That way someone has to call out “Beef!” or “Sheep!” to find their tribe. Sometimes we have seen this done where people have to make appropriate noises, such as the baaing of sheep, to find their fellow industry members.
Once participants are in their groups you can ask each group to consider a particular question. Or you can then ask them to form groups with at least two or three different industries represented and then discuss a particular question.
At the beginning of events, you can use a “human map”. Start by pointing to the north and then invite the participants to spread out around the room and stand relative to where their home town would be located. This is a great way of getting people talking and introducing themselves. Plus it gives the facilitator a good idea of the geographic diversity in the room.
This has been a short episode to introduce you to the wonderful world of sociometry (if you weren’t previously aware of it), or remind you about it’s value (if you did happen to already know about it!). Add a comment below this blog post and tell us about your experiences with line-ups and categories, including any tips and further ideas about it. How have you encouraged people to line up? What’s worked and what hasn’t? We don’t want this to be just a one-way conversation – join in by sharing your thoughts and ideas with us!
Thanks for reading this Enablers of change blog post. Remember, if you like what you’ve heard, tell your friends, so we can get more people involved in the conversation!
Viv McWaters and Johnnie Moore have an excellent factsheet on sociometry on their Creative Facilitation website. It can be found in their resources section https://www.creativefacilitation.com/resources or see it directly here: Sociometry resource.