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Posted by Agnieszka from Sendzimir Foundation


Group size

16 – 60

Subgroup size


Is participant experience relevant?

It's okay if participants haven't seen the inside of a classroom in years.

Physical trust needed

Mental trust needed


Material Description

Standard oval, cloud-shaped and rectangular cards of various colors
Felttip pens
Paper in A2 format - one sheet for each group
Display boards
A series of standard presentation get-togethers

Some facilitators use only flip charts for recording ideas, but this constrains the classification and assessment of ideas and information, since they are fixed on the page in the order they are written. The “Metaplan” method of visualization, whose basic materials are colored cards, marker pens, and sheets of A2 paper, is a much more flexible and effective technique for participatory workshops, and provides a much better support of analysis and decision-making involving complex information. The colored cards are used for recording ideas and information. They can be arranged and rearranged on the large charts of A2 paper. They demand that ideas and information be expressed in a concise and clear way. They are colorful, and the colors can be used to identify particular categories of information (e.g. yellow for obstacles, green for objectives, etc.). Information cannot be hidden or ignored if it is on a card on the chart. Because every idea is recorded, the process is very transparent. The cards also foster logical analysis, illustrating distinctions and similarities, and making comparisons possible. Basic cards are oblong in shape (20,5 x 9,5 cm); these are used for recording information during participatory sessions. Some facilitators use only these cards. Oval, circular or hexagonal cards can be used to create diagrams and images or for title cards. They are not necessary, but are a nice addition to a facilitator's tool kit as well as to the final product.
Metaplan can be run without any special materials: coloured cards are attractive but simple post-it notes (12 x 6cm) are good enough.

Create materials quick and dirty

20 min

Create materials with love and care

60 min



2 hours – whole day

Number of facilitators


Location requirements

You need a large room where the whole group can work in plenary, plus corners where the groups can work around as many display boards as there are groups. A minimum of one experienced facilitator is needed, and for large groups it is better to have more.


Level of activation


Woo-Woo Level – How touchy-feely is this method?

From 1.Rationalist-Materialist “No feelings here, folks.” to 5.Esoteric-Shamanic Bleeding Heart:

Innovation Phases:

3 Fostering New Perspectives & Ways of Thinking
4 Idea Generation
9 Evaluation

Method Category:

Awareness raising
Idea generator
Problem Solving
Strategy / Planning
Understanding complexity


This technique from Wolfgang and Eberhard Schnelle can be used as a facilitation method for groups and as a communication model. This technique develops opinions, builds a common understanding and objectives, and helps formulate recommendations and action plans to focus on a problem and its possible solutions.



This technique was developed in Germany in the 1970s by two brothers, Wolfgang and Eberhard Schnelle, who initially specialized in office furniture and tools. They developed an international consultancy firm out of that. Metaplan is a trademark of Metaplan Thomas Schnelle GmbH.

Moderators (facilitators) administer the groups and ensure that good communication, cooperation and high levels of understanding are achieved. Their objective is to provide the group with the right sort of communication tools at the right moment. In this way the group can arrive successfully and efficiently at the bottom of the matter.

By systematically breaking up larger problems into its smaller constituent parts, and by breaking larger groups into smaller ones, the involvement of all participants is maximized. The plenary group sets the task and reviews the results. Sub-groups (20-25 people) focus on the sub-tasks and collect the ideas. Mini-groups (4-6 people) actually work on the issues contained within each subtask.

Visualization is a powerful tool of participatory workshops. Visualization enables information to be retained and used, in contrast to ordinary meetings which are often full of repetition and where many ideas are not recorded or taken into account. Visualization has been proved to assist in thinking, discussing and handling information by giving a physical and time context to the information.


Wolfgang and Eberhard Schnelle



PREPARATION (excluding materials)

Rules for using Metaplan
There are some basic rules for writing on cards, which should be communicated to participants at the start of a session:
• Write very clearly in black marker, using capitals if necessary.
• Only one item of information on each card.
• Three or four lines of writing per card. A short phrase should be sufficient. Two or three words are rarely enough to describe a fact sufficiently clearly, while five or more lines cannot be easily read from a distance.

Some basic rules for facilitators are:
• Use cards of one colour for each category of information. Place piles of cards within easy reach of all participants.
• Treat all cards in the same way, making no distinctions unless the group itself wishes to. The facilitator should never give his or her views on the content of a card.
• If the group agrees that a text is not clear; ask that the card be rewritten, but only after the new formulation has been agreed upon by the group.
• Never remove or reject a card, unless the group has decided that it is no longer needed.
• Place the cards on the chart so that the information can be clearly seen. Never overlap cards so part of the text cannot be read.
• Never stick down cards permanently until it is absolutely sure that the chart has been completed.

1 Program introduction

Why use Metaplan? How the session is organised. A short presentation from the facilitator.

2 Create individual input

One leading sentence concerning the issue at stake should be proposed with the sentence being the same for all participants. The sentence should end with “...” in order to invite the participants to continue the sentence with their own ideas.

Examples of sentences that can be used are:
a) In my community, in order to convince people to participate actively in the use of Sustainable Technologies, it is important to...
b) The first things to do in order to face the waste problem in my community are...
c) In order to become more eco-friendly I propose to students and teachers of my school to …
d) If I want to judge the quality of an eco school the first things I look at are....

The participants work individually to complete the sentence writing their ideas on cards or post it notes. Participants can write as many ideas as they like, with a suggested minimum of 5 and a maximum of 8, depending on the number of participants and groups. Only one idea should be on each card and no more than 10 words used for each sentence. Participants should be encouraged to write in capitals to make the sentences understandable. Fifteen minutes should be given for this task.

3 Group the ideas together ~ 20 minutes

The participants are invited to form groups with 6-8 people. Groups can be internally homogeneous or varied, depending on the issue and on the aims. The groups pin their cards on prepared boards and name a coordinator/group speaker. The participants should organise their ideas into relevant topic headings. During this process no comments or criticism should be made on the proposed ideas but group members are allowed to ask questions to clarify understanding of the ideas.

4 Discuss the ideas presented ~ 25 minutes

The group should now discuss what has been written with people explaining the reasons for their choices. The group can also prioritize certain ideas and proposals in order to define a common vision or an action plan. There are different ways of doing this. For example, each participant can allocate 10 votes (using a coloured mark, or a cross with a colour pen), with no more than 3 votes being given by each participant to the same idea. The coordinator works with the other group members to prepare a presentation of the group work to the plenary.

5 Share the results ~ 25 minutes or more

Short (5 minute) presentations are given by each group enabling the plenary group to understand the total picture, followed by plenary discussion (10 minutes).

Full text (page 68): http://ensi.org/global/downloads/Publications/363/CoDeS%20Toolbox.pdf



The method can be used for facilitating large information markets (50-200 people) or conferences, but can be used for facilitating small management teams as well.
Metaplan can be used in the following areas:
Creating, collecting, gathering, structuring, storing, visualizing of ideas.
Introducing people in seminars.
Interconnectedness analysis.
Cause analysis.
Setting priorities.
Building momentum or support for a change initiative.


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