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Idea tree

This tool supports brainstorming ideas in cross-disciplinary teams and makes different perspectives visible.

Strength of the method:The idea tree in particular and brainwriting methods in general bear the potential to give voice to each member of a group and to promote novel ideas.
To be considered:
  • The editors of the td-net web portal remark that the idea tree is one way of doing brainwriting, a method also developed elsewhere. We encourage you to read the comments of the i2Sblog post in this regard.

  • While the goal of brainwriting is to collect as many ideas as possible (without assessing them), you may think about how you combine the brainwriting exercise with another method to reach knowledge integration.

  • In order to work towards knowledge integration, td-net finds those instructions especially useful that invite participants not only to add ideas, but also to elaborate on/further develop/comment/complement the ideas of other participants.

  • td-net selected the idea tree exercise (amongst the many method descriptions of brainwriting), as it has been successfully applied by members of the td community.

Read here about the rationale of the brief factsheets (in comparison to method profiles of the td-net toolbox):


The tool aims at collecting various thoughts on an initial topic by inviting participants to individual brain-writing based on inputs provided by the other participants.

Location in td process phases:The tool is often used for problem framing, but can also be used in other phases when discovery of alternatives is at stake.
Bridging thought styles:

The tool fosters the potential to bridge thought styles by making the perspective on an issue of each group member visible. Thereby the range of perspectives gets illustrated and the combination of these may lead to new research ideas. The potential of the tool to bridge thought styles is dependent on how the participants are selected (heterogeneity) and on the follow-on discussions after the first collection of ideas.

Time required to implement the method:

45 minutes to 1 hour in a group of 8-10 people

Preparation required:
  • Prepare a short introduction to the method
  • Organize paper & pencils
Expertise required:Easy to apply
Convener & participants:Research team, may be adapted to a group of people with specialized (practical) knowledge
Other considerations:The effectiveness of the tool is dependent on the extent to which participants adopt a supportive, inclusive stance toward each other’s entries

For a detailed description of the method (online, open access), please see

for comments from the community, see discussion section of:

Ressource compilation in whichit appears:

Provided by:

Dan Stokols, Maritza Salazar, Gary M. Olson, and Judith S. Olson

Recommended by:

Gabriele Bammer (i2S)