Face-to-Face, Online, or Both?
General Type of Method
Collaborative approaches
Spectrum of Public Participation
Open to All or Limited to Some?
Open to All
Decision Methods
Idea Generation
Level of Polarization This Method Can Handle
Low polarization


Insights-Consulting process

February 4, 2022 groetker
November 12, 2021 philipp.scherer
November 9, 2021 philipp.scherer
November 2, 2021 philipp.scherer
Face-to-Face, Online, or Both?
General Type of Method
Collaborative approaches
Spectrum of Public Participation
Open to All or Limited to Some?
Open to All
Decision Methods
Idea Generation
Level of Polarization This Method Can Handle
Low polarization

Let a group generate ideas and suggestions and summarize the results.

What is made possible?

The Insights process is a qualitative co-creation and participation process that can be carried out both in asynchronous mode (through an online platform) and in synchronous mode, such as a moderated face-to-face workshop or an online workshop. Analysis methods specially adapted to target setting, action planning and solution sketching are used in the evaluation.

The results of an insights process are findings. A cognition can take the form of a concrete individual reference to the solution of a problem or a task or it can consist of a comprehensive picture that shows the solution components in context. With the focus on insights, an insights process differs significantly from opinion polls, where the amount and proportion of votes cast are relevant for decision-making. On the other hand, the Insights process also differs from participation formats in which groups of participants work out solutions together and by consensus. In an insights process, instead, participants contribute pieces of a puzzle to solve a task or a problem. Participation takes place here in the mode of participation or contribution. For those involved, but also for outsiders, it is transparent to understand which contributions the final findings are based on.


How it works: Brief instructions in six modules

The selection or recruitment of participants precedes the actual insights process. Ideally, this should be a group of at least 15 to 20 people. However, using online tools, it is also possible to involve dozens or hundreds of people in the process in a public consultation. It is important that the purpose of the process and the intended use of the results are clearly communicated to the potential participants. Ideally, there are one or two people who are known to the participants and who, as project sponsors, are responsible for ensuring that the results are taken into account in the practical implementation. In the event of a public consultation, an appropriate communication plan should be developed for the purpose of recruitment. In the case of a closed consultation with 15 to 20 people, it is advisable to set up an advisory body to which the participants are invited as members.

1. Kickoff

The insights process begins with an impetus. Usually the impetus is a question to which the participants react in the mode of a free text answer, that is, without predefined answer options. Classically, what questions (i.e. goal or strategy questions) or how questions (implementation questions) are used, which have a specific project as the subject matter: “We would like to redesign urban district XY in order to reach Z. What should we pay attention to? How can previous offers in the city quarter be improved? “What questions and how questions are open questions. Closed questions such as “Where in the city are there places that are dangerous for cyclists?” Are also possible. Scenarios such as “Put yourself in the shoes of your competitors: What are your competitors doing better in the areas of innovation, knowledge and personnel management?” Or “We are two years into the future” are often used to answer the question. Your project has failed. What are the reasons for that?"

It does not necessarily have to be triggered by a question. It is also possible to involve participants in a game situation or a discussion, for example, in the course of which they make statements that can be used as free-text answers. It is important to create a space for reflection at the initiation - a situation in which the participants take the time to think about the question and give more than just a few keywords as an answer.

For some topics, participants first need comprehensive information before they are able to provide answers on the desired level of knowledge. This can be text information (also in audio or video form or as a live presentation), or a scenario game in which the participants can explore the topic under discussion themselves.

The free text answers can be collected either in writing or via a digital oneInterface as well as verbally. In the latter case, the answers must be written down by the moderator of the process for the further steps.

2. Isolation of key messages

In the second step, the moderators solve individual core statements from the extensive answers of the participants (see examples). This is done primarily to make longer text and answer passages easier to handle and to be able to process individual ideas that are contained in the contribution of a participant separately. Core statements are traditionally up to 200 characters long (including spaces).

In asynchronous mode, the easiest way to isolate key messages is to use the Insights platform, which was specifically designed to enable this intermediate step. Here the participants can even mark and isolate key statements in their answers. Various other software tools can be considered as alternatives to the Insights platform (see tips and stumbling blocks below). Ideally, the corresponding software should make it possible not only to mark passages within a text (and to assign categories, see step "Clustering"), but also to comment on the marked passage with a freely selectable text (which then constitutes the core message). It is important that at the end of the day it is possible to be able to call up the corresponding passage in the original article from the individual core statement. Again, the Insights platform is ideally tailored to these purposes.

3. Clustering

The key messages are now clustered inside by the moderators, that is, arranged in groups. The grouping is mostly done inductively: Instead of starting from a given scheme, the categories are developed and adapted on the go. There are no generally applicable guidelines for clustering. It is often useful to use relevant problem structuring categories (such as “problem” and “solution”). In most cases, however, it makes sense to develop the categories from the content of the topic.

As with the formation of the core statements, clustering is also carried out with software support. For more sophisticated analyzes, ideally Insights software or common tools for qualitative content analysis are used. In the case of extensive consultations, it is advisable to use software that supports the analysis through keyword searches or artificial intelligence processes.

Depending on the scope and amount of the participant's contributions, clustering the key messages takes about thirty minutes to several hours.

4. Build knowledge

The results of the clustering are the basis for the final findings. In the simplest case, a finding is a summary of participant contributions for a specific category. However, the moderator should endeavor to clearly differentiate findings from the reproduction of mere opinions and not necessarily treat opinions expressed in the consultation as facts. If opinions that are clearly recognizable as such are involved, then these can, for example, become a realization that they are interpreted as information about different needs and wishes within a target group or are read as a summary of which ideas or arguments are at least prima facie for worth considering. Findings can also consist in the fact that participants contribute detailed knowledge in their contributions that was not previously known or not sufficiently taken into account beforehand.

As with the creation of the categories, it is also useful when formulating findings to work with relevant problem structuring methods, such as “problem / solution” or “pro / contra”. In this way the individual knowledge can be given an internal structure.

5. Decision

Ideally, an insights process ends with a decision (or a statement) by the client or the involved authority. For the participants, this means that they have a clear idea from the start of how the results of the insights process translate into practical consequences. It is also used for the formulation of knowledgehelpful if these are designed from the outset based on possible decisions or statements.

6. Feedback

The findings are already presented to the participants in the process. Findings are ideally processed in such a way that participants can trace back the insights in which their contributions or the core statements obtained from their contributions have been taken into account. This can be achieved particularly easily using the Insights platform. However, it is also possible to create a text document in which the relevant key statements are listed for each finding.

Tips and pitfalls

  • The question of participation should not be formulated too openly or too big, because otherwise the hurdle of contributing an answer is easily too high
  • Questions should be formulated in such a way that expected answers contribute points that are not known in advance
  • Questions should be formulated in such a way that the answers that can be expected are so concrete that it makes a noticeable difference in practical action whether these answers are taken into account or not
  • To work out a question, it is often helpful to hold a small workshop with four to six people from the organization team
  • Instead of asking questions, it is often a good idea to involve the participants in small games. A selection of games, some of which are suitable for the tick of an insights process, is available from
  • Mind mapping is a solution for creating and clustering key messages, which is particularly suitable for workshops. If you use a mind mapping software in the "Concept Mapping" mode, the core statements can be represented by individual nodes, while the associated original contributions are created as (hidden) notes on these nodes. In asynchronous settings, it is advisable to use tools that have been developed for the purpose of so-called qualitative content analysis and that have features to simulate the process of creating core statements.
  • Problem structuring methods can be used both to find a good question and to structure findings.
  • There are so-called Kanbans for many thematic occasions. A selection of these can be found in the following toolkid from the UK innovation agency Nesta:
  • The moderation manual by Wagner, H., Seifert, JW, & Flockenhaus, U. (2009) offers a good introduction to problem structuring methods. Visualize - present - moderate: The classic - 29th edition (23rd, unchanged edition). GABAL and the book chapter: Garrette, B., Phelps, C., & Sibony, O. (2018). "Structure the Problem: Analytical Frameworks". In: Cracked it! (Pp. 95-116). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.
  • The booklet offers a particularly successful compilation of methods of visualized problem structuring in the form of diagrams: Eppler, MJ, Kernbach, S., & Pfister, RA (2016). Dynagrams- thinking in stereo: think sharper, work together more efficiently and communicate more clearly with dynamic diagrams . Schäffer Poeschel.
  • Instructions for problem structuring with diagrams, which are particularly suitable for the reconstruction of differences of opinion, can be found in the journal article: Grötker, R. (2021). "Argument Mapping & Co. - Visualized problem structuring for dealing with dissent and uncertainty". Organizational Development, 40 (2), 46–54.


  • Instead of a workshop, an insights process can also be carried out in a series of mini-workshops with 2-4 participants each (conveniently as a video call). Either different participating teams can always work on the same key question, or participants can be invited repeatedlyn to answer new questions that have arisen from previous steps.
  • Mini-workshops can be used to - deviating from the usual procedure of an Insights process - to create joint sketches (diagrams), for example of procedural sequences, instead of collecting verbal contributions from participants. Such a method is particularly suitable for the co-creation of structures or processes, the elements of which have to be coordinated with one another.
  • The insights process can also be integrated as a sub-element in other participation processes, for example in a citizens 'council process: Grötker, R. (2021) “Citizens' councils according to the Vorarlberg model - with online components”. :

Why an Insights Process? Sense and purpose

The Insights Process is an instrument to benefit from the so-called “wisdom of the many”. In contrast to the classic approach of the wisdom of the many, which is based on the evaluation of quantitative information (namely the averaging), qualitative information is processed in an insights process. In terms of democracy theory, the Insights process can be assigned to the approach of “Participatory Government” (or “Participatory Management”).

Concrete results of an insights process can be:

  • An overview of individual information such as ideas or arguments. Various aspects can be in the foreground, such as:
  • the gradual concretisation of individual proposals (like in a mind map)
  • structured access to original quotes or individual information
  • the completeness of the overall picture
  • Reports - for example of potholes on a street
  • Identifying a common intersection, shared narrative, or possible consensus

Depending on the situation and the problem, results can be implemented one-to-one or used as an intermediate result for further decision-making.


Participant contribution / key messages / findings


“All administrative procedures should be possible digitally: identification via webcam, payment via mobile phone or online, e.g.

a.) Confirmations such as life certificates etc.

b.) Driver's license and passport

c.) Dealing with the district court (land register, etc.)

- A chat facility for questions like the one offered by banks today would also be desirable.

- Invoices such as those for kindergarten via email instead of paper.

- Module changes for the kindergarten

- School registrations and requests to change areas in digital form.

- Confirmations of residence

There are countless possibilities here to make the system more efficient, to conserve resources and ultimately to make processes faster.

Karin Frühwald

Core statements isolated from this:

  • Dealing with authorities should be made possible digitally through identification via webcam, payment via mobile phone or online
  • Life certificate, driver's license and passport, errands at the district court (land register, etc.), confirmations of residence, school registrations, requests to change areas, module changes for the kindergarten

Assigned To: Finding 1:


In order to avoid unnecessary official visits, applications, registrations, etc. should be able to be processed online in the future. Specific mentions were: school registrations, change of districts, garbage bag orders [...]

Show all key messages


  • A chat facility for questions like the one offered by banks today would also be desirable

Assigned to finding 2:;


One of the concerns mentioned many times was the establishment of easier communication channels with the municipal institutions: the suggestion of a central app for appointment reservations was particularly popular. A live chat should complement the offer [...].

Show all key messages

Examples of insights processes

Attribution : The idea of using the method of qualitative content analysis for citizen participation and stakeholder consultations, including the introduction of key statements as an intermediate step, was invented by Gal Alon, who created an option for the Insights process with the online platform "Insights" to be carried out as a pure online process.