Brainstorming - QI Toolbox - Minnesota Dept. of Health


What is Brainstorming
Structured Brainstorming
Unstructured Brainstorming
Affinity Diagrams
More Information

What is Brainstorming?

Brainstorming can creatively and effectively generate a high volume of ideas on a given topic, in a non-judgmental way, by:

  • Encouraging open thinking
  • Involving all team members
  • Preventing a few team members from dominating the conversation
  • Allowing team members to build on each other's ideas while staying focused on a common goal

Structured Brainstorming

In structured brainstorming, each team member offers ideas in turn.

  1. State the agreed-upon brainstorming question in writing.
  2. Each team member gives an idea in turn. No idea is criticized.
  3. Write each idea in large, visible letters on a flip chart or other writing surface.
  4. Continue generating ideas until all are exhausted.
  5. Review the list and clarify ideas if necessary. Discard duplicate ideas.

Unstructured Brainstorming

In unstructured brainstorming, team members offer ideas as they come to mind. There are a variety of ways to conduct unstructured brainstorming. Examples include:

Visual Brainstorming

Team members develop a picture of how they see a situation or problem.

Analogies/Free Word Association

Ask team members to compare the problem or issue to seemingly unrelated objects or words (e.g., if the problem was an animal, what kind of animal would it be?).

5-3-5 Brainstorming

  1. Each person has five minutes to write down three ideas.
  2. Each person passes his/her sheet of paper to the next person, who has five minutes to add three more ideas.
  3. Repeat as many times as there are team members.

Affinity Diagrams

An affinity diagram allows seemingly random ideas or suggestions are eventually organized within natural groupings, and could be used after a round of structured or unstructured brainstorming.

More Information

Forces of Change Brainstorming Worksheet (DOC)
National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO)

Online Brainstorming and Mind Mapping

University of North Carolina Writing Center


Public Health Memory Jogger
Public Health Foundation, GOAL/QPC