Card sort is a means of drawing out dialogue from an individual or group through asking them to prioritise, rank, order or position a series of statements or words/phrases printed onto a set of cards. The cards can relate to current issues, aspects of the vision, values, process steps – virtually anything …, and they can be ranked or positioned by any criteria: importance; urgency; ease of implementation; precedence; impact; enthusiasm.
For group discussions, the cards provide a basis for people to share their experience and insights as they seek to agree on the correct order for the cards. For instance, the cards may contain the titles of ten important projects for the business, and the group may be asked to schedule them into the next twelve months. Or they may contain six value statements for the business, and the group might be asked to place them on a grid which maps achievement vs importance.
The goal of the cards is to drive dialogue, and it is useful to set a rule that any member of the group can move a card, but the cards can only be moved one at a time, and the person moving the card needs to provide new understanding or insight that has not already been shared. Once all understanding and insight have been shared, the group can agree a final order/arrangement.
For individual discussions or interviews, the cards can help to ensure the key topics for the interview are covered. For instance, the interviewer can put a series of statements about the business on separate cards, and then ask the interviewee to place them on a grid where one axis reflects how true the statements actually are, and the other axis reflects how strongly the interviewee feels about that. Once the cards have been placed, the interviewer can pick one card at a time and ask the interviewee for their evidence and the reasons for their strength of feeling.
A useful variation of card sort is to allow people to bin any card they don’t want to include, and to create any new ones they feel are missing. This is a helpful strategy in planning a set of actions to deliver a project. The initial set of cards can reflect a comprehensive collection of the ideal steps (and thereby introduce the necessary rigour) but the final set and sequence (which is often very close to the original) has the additional advantage of having the full ownership of the group.
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