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post-its wall

Clustering can be used for analysing and organising material gathered from qualitative research, e.g. data derived from Observations, Interviews, Photo Safari and Workshops. (If needed search for Field work methods)

By organizing and re-organizing data material the students get better acquainted with their research material, a dialog arises about what has been seen and o interpret it, and when categories are formed there might arise new connections and new insights.

Clustering is very suitable for group work, because the research material is visually represented, which facilitates an overview of the research material in the whole group. Another important benefit from clustering is the dialogue that happens during the exercise, which should support the collaborative process of interpreting data and obtaining shared understanding in the group.

The output of the exercise is an overview of categories/themes that the students can continue to work on in their projects. After the exercise you could couple the exercise with e.g. the methods How might we…? or Challenge Map.
(Or couple with a search for methods for Field work, Problem definition or Idea generation)


Research material from field work used in the clustering exercise might consist of different types of documentations (often dependent on the students’ resources and access to research):

  • Quotes from interviews
  • Photos
  • Notes from observations
  • Video recordings
  • Audio recording
  • … and more
  1. The material should be prepared  for the clustering session, i.e. selected notes and quotes are written onto post-its (in a readable writing), photos are printed, video recordings are made into screen dumps, which are printed, and so forth.
  2. All of the prepared material is then placed on a big surface, which allows for all of the group members to see and participate. You can use a wall with large sheets of paper to place the material on.
  3. Then the material is discussed and analyzed and placed in appropriate categories, which are named accordingly.
  4. If necessary, have students reorganise their material until all material is placed into a cluster. It’s up to students to decide the most suitable categories.
  5. Students should also categorise new ideas if they emerge throughout the exercise.
  6. It’s a good idea to let the students present their final clusters in plenum. The way they cluster their material is often telling of how they perceive their projects. When presenting their clusters the students should also consider if they need to do further research, because the clustering exercise often makes one aware of areas of the research that need more uncovering.

Worth Considering

The students can work more structured with the clustering by color coding the types of research material, e.g. by giving quotes one color, observation notes in another color, names of categories in a third color, and so on. This can help to provide a better overview and systematize the process.


You will need to use large sheets of paper, markers and Post-it notes. In addition the students need to prepare their research material in advance of the exercise.


Kawakita, J 1991’The Original KJ Method’ (Rev. Ed.) Tokyo: Kawakita Research Institute.

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