The Station Rounds technique can be used in different deliberative methods as a way of visualizing both the number of available options to address each issue and the level of consensus among people's preferences for each option.
Problems and Purpose
This technique is best when there are a range of issues being discussed and enough participants to form groups at each 'station'.
Origins and Development
21st Century Dialogue used the station-rounds technique during a consensus conference on the issue of road trains in Western Australia.
How it Works
Participant selection varies depending on the overarching method of deliberation in use. In the Western Australian example a variety of selection methods were used to ensure a wide range of community members, industry representatives, and government representatives were present at each consensus conference.
For every issue being discussed, there are flip-charts place around the perimeter of the room. In small groups, participants go around to each 'station' (flip-chart) and spend several minutes brainstorming ways to address their select issue. After a set amount of time, each group travels to the next flip-chart where they look over those options written by the previous group, determine their level of consensus with them, and add any more ideas.
After every group has visited each station once, teams split up and individual members place coloured stickers prioritizing their top three options for each issue (one colour each for long, medium, and short-term priorities). These are then tallied up by facilitators to determine the level of consensus among the group on each option for every issue.
Other techniques for group discussions and brainstorming can be used along with stations rounds. For example, in Western Australia, 21st Century Dialogue used the Nominal Group Technique - "a structured method for group brainstorming that encourages contributions from everyone" - during station-rounds.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
By presenting participants' choices visually, station-rounds allow facilitators to neatly sum up the level of consensus on each option for every issue. While the initial brainstorming rounds may produce a large number of options at each flip-chart, the second stage only allows each individuals three choices thus narrowing down the available options left to discuss.
In the Western Australian case cited above, facilitators chose to record the full list of prioritized options (three for each issue) and present this to the event's government liason, the Planning and Implementation Committee.
In theory it would also be possible to hold another turn of station rounds whereby each group chose only one option from the paired-down list. This depends in part on how many options the event's sponsors are willing to consider.
The number of consensus options generated during the station rounds in Western Australia were "far broader than any of the stakeholders had anticipated." However, in this case the government was committed to honouring the public's decisions. According to 21st Century Dialogue, it was found "necessary to reorganise the Main Roads department to deal with the new agenda. The acceptance of interstate transport ministers and senior bureaucrats had to be elicited to bring in compulsory accreditation of all road trains. This was achieved. New ways of dealing with the public on changes to freight road designations were trialled; and government policies and priorities were re-formulated."
 American Society for Quality, "Nominal Group Technique". http://asq.org/learn-about-quality/idea-creation-tools/overview/nominal-...
21st Century Dialogue, "Road Trains Summit". Report (2001). http://21stcenturydeliberation.com/index.php?package=Initiatives&action=Link&file=road_train_summit.html