Number of People: 10-500

Time:  Depends on number of words defined and how groups present their out-puts.

  • Each word should have 20-40 min of small group conversation. Presentations should be 5 min or less per.

Formats: Small group conversation self managed with Instructions in parallel over 20-40 min.  Presentation of group output to the whole group.

Use of Method:

One of the things that defines a (professional) community is that they have a shared language they use to talk with each other about their field of expertise.

The development of this arises out of the interactions with those who innovate the field of practice.

When seeking to bring together people from different professional backgrounds and communities it is important to remember that time will be needed to figure out what different communities mean when they use certain words. This issue can go a few directions

Different communities/fields of practice can

1) use the same word to actually mean two (or more) different things

2) use different words to mean the same thing

When these differences are broached and people from one community/profession/field talk to others from a different field and they understand what each other means – then it is said they have “shared understanding.”  Because they are not talking past each other, (talking past each other being a metaphor for not being understood) they are actually communicating and this real communication can serve as the basis of collaborative action.

The next phase in communities working together is they begin to develop shared language that the words they use begin to converge and align.  Explicitly creating space to forge shared understanding and support the emergences of shared language can accelerate the time to get to real collaborative action.

This mapping exercise can be used to support communities and groups at different times in their lifecycle (including in the formation stage) to understand the diversity of meaning about various words they use.

History: I created this method to support the 250 people who attend the Internet Identity Workshop #15 sharing with one another and getting a clear landscape map of the meanings of key words.

At this point in the community lifecycle the NSTIC (National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace) effort was emerging and it was clear that some words had different meanings and this was an opportunity to get them outlined and observed on a wall together.

Supplies: On each a large flip-chart sized piece of paper.  Two 3×5.5 or 4×4 lined Post-It Notes per person .


Figure out the words you want to ask those gathered to define. They should be words that have multiple meanings and at the core of the field. For this exercise amongst digital identity professionals we used these 10 words –  each word was given to two different tables.

  • Identity
  • Federation
  • Authentication
  • Ecosystem
  • Framework
  • Reputation
  • Security
  • Credential
  • Trust
  • Privacy

Write these on cards and then fold them so the word is not visible.

People sitting in groups of 10 around tables – each person should have 2 Post-It notes.

Get one person per-table to come and get a word for their table.

Then the instructions are as follows.  After the word is reviled everyone at the table writes 2 different definitions on each of their two Post-It Notes.

Once this is complete the next phase begins and those at each table share the definitions they wrote down with each other and then are invited to use the flip chart paper to create a map of the definition.  This should take 20-30 min.

We then invited participants to gather together in the starting circle for open space.  Each group held up their flip paper chart map of the definitions and a person described it to the whole group.  They were then posted on the wall at IIW.




Ecosystem version 1 with original post-it notes + additional and then a synthesis.



Here is a link to all the definitions we gathered typed up on the wiki.

Recommendation:  It is good to have the groups be diverse one way to do that is to ask that people sit with those they don’t know already. At IIW for our opening we ask that there be at least 3 people who have not attended IIW before and 3 people who have attended before be at each table.