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Atlantic Review of Economics 

            Revista Atlántica de Economía

Colegio de Economistas da Coruña
 INICIO > EAWP: Vols. 1 - 9 > EAWP: Volumen 6 [2007]Estadísticas/Statistics | Descargas/Downloads: 12392  | IMPRIMIR / PRINT
Volumen 6 Número 03: Creative and Participative Problem Solving

René Victor Valqui Vidal
Technical University of Denmark

Reference: Received 24th October 2006; Published 16rd March 2007.
ISSN 1579-1475

Este Working Paper se encuentra recogido en DOAJ - Directory of Open Access Journals http://www.doaj.org/



Este trabajo presenta el contenido de un nuevo libro electrónico escrito por el autor del presente documento de trabajo que introduce la disciplina: El Arte y la Ciencia de Resolver Problemas. Este libro pueder ser leído/descargado libre de cargas. El trabajo introducirá de un modo holístico las cuestiones fundamentales discutidas en el libro, antes de abordar el asunto principal.


This paper presents the contents of a new e-book, written by he author of this paper that introduces the discipline: The Art and Science of Problem Solving. This book can be read/downloaded free-of-charge. This paper will introduce in a holistic manner the main topics discussed in this book, it is a starter before going to the main dish.



1. Introduction

In many professions the point of departure is a mess or a problematic situation. A mess is usually defined as a confused, dirty, or offensive condition, or as a disordered situation resulting from misunderstanding, blundering, or misconception. A mess is usually composed of a complex mix of problems. Along these lines we could define a professional as a problem solver within a specific field. Managers, system scientists, computer scientists, operational researchers, system workers, designers, architects, engineers, innovators, medical doctors, lawyers, sociologists, social workers, action researchers, educators, innovators, artists, etc., are primarily dealing with messes in their professional praxes.


Most of these disciplines have developed concepts, approaches, methods and tools to deal with complex problems but there are usually presented in very specific terms related to their specific context. I am quite certain that much of these knowledge and experience have a more general applicability to other fields and that there is a lot to gain by discussing problem solving in more general and abstract terms. We will call this field: The Art and Science of Problem Solving.


In this new field artistic and scientific approaches as well as their interplay, will be emphasised when dealing with problematic situations. Moreover, knowledge and experience coming from both theory (the professionals or experts) and practice (the users or clients), will be central in this field enhancing participation and dialogue. In other words, we are developing the Esperanto of problem solving.


The main purpose of this paper is to introduce a new e-book written by the author of this paper: CREATIVE AND PARTICIPATIVE PROBLEM SOLVING – The Art and the Science that can be read or downloaded free-of-charge from:



This e-book is focusing primarily in participative and creative approaches to problematic situations faced by communities, organizations, firms or public institutions. This book is composed of the following eight chapters:


  1. Fundamental Concepts
  2. The Vision Conference
  3. The Art of Facilitation
  4. Group Work
  5. Creative Tools
  6. The Future Workshop
  7. Participative Problem Solving
  8. Enhancing your Creativity


This paper gives a holistic view and an introduction to the different elements of modern problem solving based on some concepts from creative thinking and systemic problem solving. Modern frameworks, concepts, approaches, methods and tools are introduced in an interdisciplinary manner. These themes can be further studied in the above mentioned e-book, where a complete list of references is included.

. The Scene

The point of departure in our discussions is the concept of an organisation. An organisation can be a family, a group of people, a community, a corporation, or a public institution. What characterises organisations is that there are purposefully designed and specialised to achieve a task. Thus an organisation in a community could be a centre designed to enforce the development of the region, while firms are organisations providing some products and profits, and institutions are organisations designed to provide some services.


The evolution of organisations is conditioned by external and internal factors, and sometimes organisations are experiencing problematic situations or messes. These are complex situations where some purposeful action is demanded to achieve some goals and visions. Problematic situations are usually related to the introduction of new technology, the re-design of the organisation, the development of new strategies for the organisation, the formulation of new visions for the future of a community, or problem solving in general.


In such a situation, the organisation will usually appoint a work group to deal with the problematic situation. The task of this group is to analyse the mess and answer the question: What is to be done? In other words, to propose an action plans to be approved by the decision-makers of the organisation. In small organisations the decision-makers (managers) are usually part of or identical to the work group. Related to these persons we have the so-called stakeholders, those individuals outside or inside the organisation that can either affect or be affected by the action plan, see Figure 1. Let us see two examples to clarify the above-mentioned concepts.


Example 1: A small firm

The organisation in question is a small firm in a retail business. The problematic situation is to what extent to engage in e-businesses as demanded by the bigger partners in the supply chain and what will eventually be the configuration of the technological platform to be used (to develop an IT strategy). The situation is also problematic because the organisation has neither the technological background to identify different technological alternatives nor the experience and knowledge for dealing with problematic situations. Management (the decision- makers) has appointed a work group to deal with this mess in a creative way. The stakeholders are: the shareholders, the suppliers and the different type of purchasers.


Example 2: Community work

The organisation in question is a Development Centre in Odsherred (DCO), a vulnerable local region of Denmark. This is an autonomous non-profit organisation which main objectives are to strengthen, develop, and inspire to all type of cultural, social, environmental, and commercial activities in the region. Local innovators, in close co-operation with the relevant stakeholders of the region, carry out projects. These projects as well as the DOC itself are financed through a mix of sources: public funds, private funds, sponsors, business activities, and LEADER+, an EU-program that supports development in vulnerable regions of the countries that are members of the EU.


The problematic situation is the development of common images of ideas, projects, visions, and objectives for the region in question. These visions and objectives will be used to select the projects to be supported by the LEADER+ program. The DOC’s board (the decision-makers) appointed a work group to deal with this situation. The stakeholders are: NGO’s from the region, the business community, trade unions, local innovators and officials from the different municipalities of the region.

_ _ _


To deal with messes, it is recommendable for the work group to hire a facilitator. A facilitator will support the group in the creative problem solving process; he or she will secure that the problem solving process ends with an action plan. The facilitator is usually the manager of the problem solving process. The facilitator could also give some expert know-how or find out if some experts have to be hired to give specialised advice. Often, the facilitator is a professional that has some technical expertise, for instance within information technology, so that he or she could also be the expert. 


To perform his job as process manager, the facilitator uses some approaches, methods and tools that he/she finds suitable for the given situation. The problem solving approaches could be quantitative (hard), qualitative (soft), participative (critical), innovative (creative) or a combination of them (multi-methodology). To facilitate groups demand the ability to both design and mange problem solving processes, creating a pro-active atmosphere and synergetic effects. Fig. 1 summarises all the elements and concepts discussed above, these will be further elaborated in the rest of this section.




Example 1 (continued)

In the above-mentioned example the facilitator was a student working in his MSc thesis to obtain a degree in Computer Engineering and Operational Research. The facilitator was also the technical expert. The problem solving process had duration of around 3 months. The facilitator used several soft approaches during the problem solving process. The final product was an action plan elaborating the different realistic alternatives and a proposal for the decision-makers. The whole case study has been reported in Sørensen, Vidal, and Engström (2004).



Example 2 (continued)


The director of DOC contacted the author of this book to support in the organisation and facilitation of a Vision Conference. The purpose of this conference was both:

  • To generate visions and projects that will create a sustainable development of the region, and
  • To learn how to facilitate groups, a tool that will be used during the implementation process of the LEADER+ program.


The facilitator designed and managed the Vision Conference where a creative process and several creative techniques were used. The final result was a long list of potential projects for the future. This portfolio will be used in the debates of the DOC’s board while allocating funds to some selected projects, see further Sec. 12. The whole case study has been reported in Vidal (2004a).



3. Social Interventions


In the two examples mentioned above, we have in principle two different kinds of social interventions. In the first one, denominated research-driven intervention, it is the facilitator as a researcher that takes the initiative to find a real-life case study for his MSc thesis. His objective is to test a problem solving approach and to evaluate the applicability of some methods. Obviously, the client or user will benefit by learning about the problematic situation, but there are not doubts about whose needs are ultimately driving the inquiry and helping process. This kind of intervention is quite similar to the type of interventions carried out under the name Action Research, a sociological school introduced by Lewin (1948). When he first formulated Action Research it was clearly a case of the researchers wanting to figure out how to be more successful in implementing some changes that the researcher desired. He found that by involving the targeted population in the research process, they became more amenable and committed to the desired change. But the initial drive came from the change agent and it was the change agent’s goals that were driving the intervention. This research practice involves the client system in the researcher’s agenda even though the client system might ultimately be the beneficiary. But the client did not initiate the process and it was not the client’s needs that drove the process. It was the researcher´s choice to involve the client in his research process.


The second example illustrates what is known as a user-driven intervention. The work group was composed of professionals covering different disciplines and with experience in problem solving within their own fields. In this case study, it is the client’s needs that is driving the inquiry and supporting process. During the problem solving process the work group will need support from experts, as for example the organisation of a conference and the teaching of facilitation tools. In this mode of intervention learning is a very important aspect of the problem solving process, because next time the users will organise a similar conference without an extern facilitator and facilitation will become a tool in their future work. This form of intervention is usually found in the praxis of many consulting disciplines as for instance Systems Sciences, Management Sciences, Computer Sciences, and Operational Research.


A third mode of intervention is denominated participative intervention, where both the work group and the facilitators co-operate and collaborate from the very beginning in the design of a creative problem solving process to deal with the problematic situation. This form of intervention is usually necessary when there is a need of both the practical experiences of the work group and the methodological and other expert knowledge from the facilitators. This mode of intervention can be regarded as a synthesis of the other two modes described previously.



Example 3: Organisational design


In March 2001, a group of tapestry weavers in Denmark decided to take the initiative for creating an organisation to develop and implement a strategy that can give their profession a badly needed innovation and produce new impulses to give the profession visibility and better working conditions in the whole Europe. They wanted to create an organisation of tapestry weavers in Europe: The EUROPEAN TRAPESTRY FORUM (ETF for short), a European umbrella forum based on the national organisations. ETF should support both permanent and recurrent activities financed by the European countries and the EU. This organisation was designed at a workshop conducted in March, 2001, for a group of tapestry weavers from North Europe, and facilitated by the author of this paper, see further Sec. 12. 



4. Problem Solving Approaches


In 1981, Ackoff (1981) published a paper entitled: The Art and Science of Mess Management. He argued that there are three actions that can done about problematic situations:

  • The clinical or intuitive approach, where you select actions that are good enough, that satisfies; it relies heavily on past experience, it is qualitatively oriented, and it is rooted deeply in common sense making use of subjective judgements and intuition. This approach can be supported by soft or qualitative methods.
  • The research or rational approach, where you select actions that are the best possible outcome, which optimizes; it is largely based on scientific methods; it is quantitative oriented, and it makes use of mathematical and computer models aspiring to complete objectivity and rationality. This approach is usually supported by hard or quantitative methods. And
  • The design or creative approach, where you seek to change the nature, and the environment of the problem so as to remove the problem, it dissolves the problem; it idealizes rather than satisfies or optimizes because its objective is to change the system involved or its environment in such a way as to bring it closer to an ultimately desired state, one in which the problem cannot or does not arise; it is innovative oriented and it make use of creative and participative approaches aspiring dissolution in the containing whole.


The last approach is based on interaction of the two first approaches, practical experience and scientific based approaches, but he adds design, invention, creativity, participation, and facilitation. This is the art and science of problem solving. The facilitator is both the artist and scientist supporting a group to deal with a mess.


Creative thinking and creative methods might be used in all three approaches, but they are necessary elements in the design approach. Referring to Figure 1, creativity thinking and creative tools can be used in:

  • The group work,
  • The problem solving process, and
  • The facilitation process.

5. Creative Conferences and Workshops

There are several approaches to carry out creative conferences and workshops. In general, to change or transform the actual situation of an organization you can use two main approaches:

  • First to criticize the actual situation, them to dream about a preferable future situation, and finally to find ways to move from the actual situation to a preferable one; or
  • First depict a future preferable situation, then analyze the actual situation, and finally find ways to move from the actual situation to a preferable one.


The Future Workshop (or FW for short) belongs to the first category of approaches while The Vision Conference (VC) belongs to the second one. They emphasize: creativity, critique, learning, team work, cooperation, collaboration, facilitation, democracy, and empowerment.


These approaches have been developed as methods to support the political struggles of community groups for a better enforcement of their interests to create a better future worth to live for. They have been designed to enable and support the development of social fantasy that should lead to problem solving and conflict resolutions that can be turned against the business-as-usual and the profit-seeking of the establishment. They seek to support group creativity and to create group synergy for individuals that are in the same oppressed situation.


These are very popular methods used in many different situations and have been applied in communities, municipalities, NGO´s and small firms. They were presented as methods to develop ideas or projects for community development and problem solving in a participative, democratic and cooperative way. The design of the workshop or conference task embodies the principles of creative problem solving while the social organisation of the group expresses the principles of facilitation of responsible participative democracy.


These two approaches are characterised by three main aspects:

  • They focus on group dynamics while other approaches focus on methods or on approaches for task solving as the steering factor
  • There are based on modern concepts about the facilitation of groups in creative problem solving processes; and
  • They emphasise collective work and collaborative learning through the interaction of the participants with the aim of learning how to build, sustain, and develop responsible participative communities.


Other types of conference and workshops can be found in Vidal (2006).



6. The Art of Facilitation


To facilitate is: to promote, to aid, to make easy, or to simplify. In other words a group facilitator is a person who supports the group during the task solving process. In a workshop a distinction is made between content (the theme under discussion), approaches (the way a problem is tackled), and social processes (group interaction and communication). Facilitation focuses primarily on approaches and social processes. That is, the facilitator does not need to be particularly expert about the theme being discussed. Too much or too little knowledge on the subject matter might actually hinder the process.


The task of the facilitator is usually compared to that of a football coach or the conductor of a symphony orchestra. As a coach, the facilitator sometimes knows very well the members of the group and he guides them to achieve some goals. As a conductor, the facilitator has to conduct an orchestra which he had not worked with previously and which will be improvising rather than performing a standard piece of music. It is precisely the need for flexibility and the unpredictability of the group processes which make the facilitation task as management so unpredictable and fascinating.


The facilitator is there to ensure fruitful group processes whether this a brainstorming session for getting new ideas or using some mapping tools to structure a complex situation. The role of the facilitator is to ensure that the group works as a constructive, collaborative, creative and cohesive unit. These tasks of the facilitator have three elements: leadership, referee, and neutral.


The leadership role usually demands the following activities:

  • Focus: to provide a focus for the group.
  • Stimulate: to encourage constructive debate between the participants
  • Support: to bring out information from introverted participants and to allow new ideas to be submitted.
  • Participate: when the group is interacting poorly or is going in the wrong direction, the facilitator must be willing to promote new discussions.
  • Team building: to form a cohesive, interactive, dynamic and creative group.


The referee role usually demands the following activities:

  • Regulation: to maintain order of the group discussion, discouraging participants from talking at the same time, or dominating the floor.
  • Protect participants: to ensure that all contributions to the discussion are treated equally and that no-one is rebuffed for their input.
  • Deal with problems: to control problem participants allowing everyone to participate freely.
  • Deal with conflicts: to identify conflicts and to create space for a fruitful discussion.
  • Timekeeper: to adhere to workshop timetable thus ensuring completion of the agenda.


The neutral role usually demands the following activities:

  • Pragmatic: to take detached look at the discussion viewing each issue on its merits.
  • Encourage feedback: to promote discussion of each selected issue, by all members of the group.
  • Impartial: to be neutral to the discussions, this frees the facilitator to focus on the process rather than the content of the discussion and hence asking pertinent and stimulating questions.



Summarizing, we can say that a facilitator is a person who has the job of empowering the participants to learn in an experiential group. An experiential group is one in which learning takes place through an active and consciously involvement of the whole person. The facilitator has been appointed to this task by the organisers of the workshop to carry out learning and problem solving processes and the group members voluntary accept the facilitator in this role.


Group work to deal with problematic situations has become a central activity in modern societies. We have seen that group work is not only a problem solving process but also interrelated to communication, learning and empowerment processes. These processes can be suitable conducted by a facilitation process. Effective and rewarding group work needs facilitation, especially in situations where the participants do not know each other or are not very experienced in group working.


To become a good facilitator is like in sport or art; you have to practice and to train your self. You will not become a good sportsman or artist just by reading books. If you are in a meeting at your local club, at your community, at work or any other organisation you belong to, try to convince people to organise those meetings as facilitated conferences and workshops.


In my teaching activities related to creativity, problem solving, and systems thinking, the students have to be a member of a group to follow the course. By the end of the course each student should be able to work in groups, to facilitate groups and to use some tools and methods. The results obtained in these courses are overwhelming positive for all the students and myself, especially taking into consideration that for most of them it is the first time they are working in groups.



7. Group Work


A group of people working in the same room, or even on a common project, does not necessarily invoke the group process. If the group is facilitated in a totally autocratic manner, there may be little opportunity for interaction relating to the work; if there is fractioning within the group, the process may never evolve. In simple terms, the group process leads to a spirit of communication, cooperation, coordination and commonly understood procedures. If this is present within a group of people, then their performance will be enhanced by their mutual support (both practical and social).


Groups are particularly good at combining talents and providing innovative solutions to possible unfamiliar problems; in cases where there is no well established approach/procedure, the wider skill and knowledge set of the group has a distinct advantage over that of the individual. An ideal group can be seen as a self managing unit. The range of skills provided by its members and the self monitoring which each group performs makes it a reasonably safe recipient for delegated responsibility. Even if a problem could be decided by a single person, there are two main benefits in involving the people who will carry out the decision:

  • Firstly, the motivational aspect of participating in the decision will clearly enhance its implementation, and
  • Secondly, there may well be factors which the implementer understands better than the single person who could supposedly have decided alone.


From the individual’s point of view, there is the added incentive that through belonging to a group each can participate in achievements well beyond his/her own individual potential. Less idealistically, the group provides an environment where the individual´s self-perceived level of responsibility and authority is enhanced, in an environment where accountability is shared: thus providing a perfect motivator through enhanced self-esteem coupled with low stress.


When people work in groups, there are two quite separate issues involved:

  • The first is the task and the problems involved in getting the job done. Frequently this is the only issue which the group considers, and
  • The second is the process of the group work itself: the mechanisms by which the group acts as a unit.


However, without due attention to this process the value of the group work can be diminished or even destroyed. With an explicit facilitation of the process, it can enhance the worth of the group to be many times the sum of the worth of its individuals. It is this synergy which makes group work attractive in organisations and communities despite the possible problems (and time spent) in group formation.


Working with a group on a problem-solving project can be a pleasure and a rewarding experience, especially if synergetic effects have been created. Working with a group can also be a frustrating and a time wasting experience. Experience shows that the product of a well functioning group work has better odds for success than does the product of single individuals. In modern life most individuals spent time working in cooperation and collaboration with others. Group work has demonstrated to be generally superior to individual work due to five main reasons:

  • Members can offer complementary and supplementary information, experiences, perspectives, and opinions, making the pooled knowledge greater than the sum of its parts,
  • For many persons, the simple presence of others even without interaction motivates them on to think harder and more creatively,
  • Within groups, the most confident, conscientious, and creative members tend to prevail,
  • Errors made by the group are more likely to be detected by a member than individual errors are to be detected by an individual,
  • Several individuals involved with the problem are better that just only one, in case of a person leaving the community, and
  • Group dynamics and synergy effects can be achieved.


Good group work demands a balance between building a sense of solidarity and responsibility among members during the problem solving process, and getting the task accomplished. This demands from the members of the group not only intelligence and creativity but also social skills. People are not born with social skills; they have to learn them. The best way to learn them, obviously, is by practisizing that is working in groups (learning by doing).


Aside from the formal roles of facilitator, coordinator and recorder, most groups need and find people to play a number of other group maintenance roles essential to the health and the progress of the group, some of the helpful roles for the group are: encouragers, feeling expressers, harmonisers, group observer and commentator, compromisers, standard setter, and gatekeepers and expediter.


Some group members may select, consciously or not, to play roles that are unhelpful to the group. Some of these are: freeloaders, withdrawers, aggressors, dominators, help seeker, self-confessors, blockers, and status and recognition seekers. The common aspect among these roles is a conflict between personal goals and group interest.


In addition to group maintenance roles, which are essential in keeping the group unified and efficient, every member, will have to play several task roles, some of these are: initiators, information seekers, information givers, opinion seekers, opinion givers, clarifiers, elaborators, innovators, orienters, evaluators, energisers and summarisers.




8. Creative Tools


Creative tools can support the different stages of the problem solving process. They are designed to help you to devise creative and imaginative solutions to problems, and help you to spot opportunities that you might otherwise miss. Creative tools have been used in practice to deal with problems such as:

  • Improving products or services,
  • Creating new products or services,
  • Developing new strategies,
  • Generating many radical ideas,
  • Making creative leaps,
  • Widening the search for solutions,
  • Looking at problems from different perspectives, and
  • Solving everyday problems.


Four of the key abilities that characterises creative individuals or groups will be discussed below as well as tools to enhance them in concrete problem solving situations. These abilities are:

  • Fluency,
  • Flexibility,
  • Originality, and
  • Elaboration.



Fluency is the production of multiple problems, ideas, alternatives or solutions. It has been shown that the more ideas we produce, the more likely we are to find a useful or innovative idea or solution. Fluency is a very important ability especially in the creative problem solving process. To have too few alternatives is not a good thing in problem solving. There are many tools for producing ideas, alternatives options and suitable solutions. Several researchers have shown that training and practice with these tools cause a better fluency.


One creative tool, which has been widely used with big success for generating many ideas, is Brainstorming. The tool is directed to generating unconventional ideas by suppressing the common tendency to criticise or reject them summarily. It is tried to separate idea-evaluation from idea generation because it is believed that if evaluation comes early, it reduces the quantity and quality of the ideas produced. Therefore in a Brainstorming session no criticism is permitted and freewheeling generation of a large number of ideas and their combination and development are encouraged. Brainstorming is founded on the associative premise that the greater the number of associations, the less stereotyped and more creative the ideas of how to solve a problem will be.



Flexibility is the ability to process ideas or objects in many different ways given the same stimulus. It is the ability to delete old ways of thinking and begin in different directions. It is adaptive when aimed at a solution to a specific problem, challenge or dilemma. Flexibility is especially important when logical methods fail to give satisfactory results. Looking at modern paintings requires flexibility, they demand looking from different perspectives in order to see different objects, images and symbols. Seeing persons or objects in the clouds requires the flexibility of seeing concrete shapes in cloud formations. Flexible thinking provides for changes in ideas, detours in thinking to include contradictions, differing viewpoints, alternative plans, differing approaches and various perspectives of a situation.


A family of creative tools, known as verbal checklists, has been developed to enhance flexibility in the creative process. Usually this is a checklist of questions about an existing product, service, process, or other item to yield new points of view and thereby lead to innovation. The idea behind the verbal checklist is that an existing product or service can be improved if one applies a series of questions to it and pursues the answers to see where they may lead. The main questions take the form of verbs such as Modify? or Combine? These verbs indicate possible ways to improve an existing product or service by making changes to it. Then you add definitional words to the verb, for instance combine ideas, combine appeals, combine purposes, combine units, etc.



Originality means getting away from the obvious and commonplace or breaking away from routine bound thinking. Original ideas are statistically infrequent. Originality is a creative strength, which is a mental jump from the obvious. Original ideas are usually described as unique, surprising, wild, unusual, unconventional, novel, weird, remarkable or revolutionary. You need courage to be creative, because as soon as you propose a new idea, you are a minority of one. Belonging to a minority is unpleasant. In addition the original thinker must be able to withstand the ridicule and scepticism, which will be directed toward his/her ideas and himself/herself. To enhance creativity we have to be respectful of unusual or crazy ideas or alternatives.


Picture Stimulation is a very popular technique used to provide ideas beyond those that might be obtained using brainstorming. The members of the group will look at a set of selected pictures and relate the information gained from the picture to the problem, otherwise the rules of brainstorming should be followed. Photo excursion uses the same principles of picture stimulation but instead of using prepared pictures for stimulation, participants are required to leave the building walk around the area with a (Polaroid or digital) camera, and take pictures of possible solutions or visual ideas for the problem; when the group reconvenes, ideas are shared.


Originality can also be enhanced by analogies and metaphors. An analogy is a comparison of two things that are essentially dissimilar but are shown through the analogy to have some similarity. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which two different universes of thought are linked by some point of similarity. In the broadest sense of the term, all metaphors are simple analogies, but not all analogies are metaphors. Nature is a good source to provide analogies. Poetry is a good source of metaphors. Similes are specific types of metaphors that use the words "like" and "as" - for instance, the wind cut like a knife; his hand was as quick as a frog´s tongue, he sees like a condor and digs as fast and deep as a mole. Similes can be used to suggest comparisons that offer ideas for solutions.




Mind Mapping
is a visual and verbal tool usually used to structure complex situations in a radial and expanding way during the creative problem solving process. A mind map is by definition a creative pattern of related ideas, thoughts, process, objects, etc. It is difficult to identify the origin and the creator of this technique. It is quite probable that this tool has been inspired by research on the interplay between the left and the right hemisphere of the brain.


The principles to construct mind maps are few and easy to understand. The best way to learn it is by practice. After short time you will do it automatically. If it is difficult for adults it is because they think linearly and take notes in a linear way (using the left hemisphere of the brain). To make mind maps you have to draw ideas from the centre of the paper and move in a radial and parallel way, to do that you have to use both your creative and your logical brain. With some experience you develop your own style, your own pallet of colours, your own symbols, your own icons, etc.


A Mind Map contains usually the following elements:

·         The subject or the problem that has to be studied or analysed will be placed in the centre of the paper,

·         Keywords (names or verbs) are used to represent ideas, as far as possible only one word is used in a line,

·         The keywords are connected to the centrum through a main branch and sub-branches,

·         Colours and symbols are used to emphasise ideas or to stimulate the brain to identify new relations, and

·         Let ideas and thoughts flew free; avoiding too much evaluation during the period of elaboration of the map.


When I construct a mind map, I will start from left to right building main branches in a circular way. Then, I will continue drawing sub-branches moving in a circular way until the whole sheet of paper is filling up with ideas. That is, I have been moving following an expanding spiral pattern. Then, I will move in the reverse way following a contracting spiral pattern supplementing the map with new ideas and connections. These spiral movements provoke the interplay between the creative and the logical brain to be able to combine holistic thinking with particular details of the subject or the problem in question.


About creative tools and methods see further Vidal (2004b). 



9. The Art and Science of Participative Problem Solving


In our educational institutions and in our culture in general, there is a split between art and science. It is believed that these two ways of working and thinking, the artistic attitude and the scientific attitude are two very different worlds, they are like oil and water. Although the link between art and science has historically been very close, exemplified by Leonardo da Vinci, the ideal that Leonardo represents is really not agreed upon by the art and science communities. It is my opinion that this distinction between and separation of art and science is artificial and increasingly anachronistic. Fortunately things are changing; new fields arise from the synthesis of other fields. For instance, scientists are relaying more and more on visual communication, and artists are working increasingly with computers. There is a common place to transfer information, ideas and knowledge. Visual problems are ultimately the same across disciplines. For example, Computer Graphics is a new field made up of art and science.


In Sec. 4, we have already mentioned the work of Ackoff that argues of the need of approaching problematic situations as both artistic and scientific tasks, this is the design or creative approach, where you seek to change the nature, and the environment of the problem to remove the problem, it dissolves the problem; it idealizes rather than satisfies or optimizes because its objective is to change the system involved or its environment in such a way as to bring it closer to an ultimately desired state, one in which the problem cannot or does not arise; it is innovative oriented and it makes use of creative and participative approaches aspiring dissolution in the containing whole. In the design approach the facilitator is both the artist and scientist supporting a group to deal with a mess through a problem solving process.


Our main purpose is to reflect, elaborate and document about how the concept of “the art and science of problem solving” can be used in the real world to deal with important problematic situations in Society. Here, the facilitator is both the artist and scientist supporting a group work. As a scientist, he will be using when needed scientific approaches, experimentation, simulation and mathematical modelling in the problem solving process. As an artist, he will metaphorically speaking be like a painter who combines colours and shapes (the participants in the process) to create an art work (the problem solving process). Or, the facilitator is the director of a theatre performing a piece of art.



10. Enhancing Your Creativity


To be creative you have to be open to all alternatives. This open mindedness is not always possible to meet because all humans build up blocks or mental locks in the maturation and socialisation process. Some of those locks can have external causes, such as family environment, the educational system, and organisational bureaucracy. Other blocks are internally generated by our reactions to external factors or by physical factors. A key to improve your creativity is to become aware of your locks and do something about them. While everyone has blocks to creativity, blocks vary in quantity and intensity from person to person. Most of us are not aware of our conceptual blocks. Awareness not only permits us to know our strengths and weakness better but also gives the needed motivation and knowledge to break down these blocks.. These blocks can be:

  • Perceptual locks are obstacles that restraint us from clearly perceiving either the problem itself or the information needed to register the problem. It is well known that our eyes can deceive us in observing some figures. Our perceptions are not always accurate.
  • Emotional locks restrict our freedom to investigate and manipulate ideas. They prevent communicating our ideas to others. These locks are also called psychological barriers and are the most significant and prevalent blocks that impede innovation. Fear of something new is a common characteristic of many individuals in the developed world.
  • Cultural locks are adapted by exposure to a given set of cultural patterns. The culture of the industrialised countries trains mental playfulness, fantasy and reflectiveness out of people by placing stress on the value of efficiency, effectivity and moneymaking. Taboos and myths are predominant blocks to creative behaviour. Therefore, it needs courage to be creative in a culture that does not support creative changes.
  • Environmental locks are imposed by our near social and physical environment. Creative persons have usually had a childhood where they were free to develop their own potentialities.
  • Intellectual locks are caused by conservatism and lack of willingness to use new approaches. The same approaches, the same tools and the same persons are tackling the same problems for years. Persons with intellectual locks are usually very negative to changes and are fast to criticise new proposals.


In Vidal (2006) several recommendations are given to enhance the creativity of a person or a group.



11. Applications


The Development Centre in Odsherred, North West Zealand, Denmark, is an autonomous non-profit organisation established in March 1998. The main objectives of DCO are to strengthen, develop, and inspire all types of cultural, social, environmental, and commercial activities in the vulnerable region of Odsherred and to create co-operation with similar activities in other similar regions both in Denmark and Europe. Since its establishment DCO has focused on cultural, IT and environmental projects and activities such as: visual arts, Internet communication, dramatised cultural communication, sustainable building and design, etc. Local innovators in close co-operation carry out projects with the relevant actors of the region. This centre is financed through a mix of financing sources: public funds, private funds, sponsors, and business activities. DCO is steered by a board having a wide register of activities within development work, job-creation, education, production, sales, marketing and communication. In 1999, there were so many projects at the centre that 15 persons were employed full-time at DCO. The director of this centre has experiences in fund-raising and in supporting several types of cultural activities in the region. The director of DCO asked the author to organise a one-day Vision Conference in March 2002. This conference was the start of the LEADER+ Program in the region.



LEADER+ is an EU-program that supports development in particularly vulnerable rural regions of the European countries members of EU. It supports creative and innovative projects that can contribute to long-term and sustainable development in these regions. LEADER+ Program is one of the EU’s structural founding programs that is planned to run until the year 2006. A four-year program of 48 million DKr. will be administrated by the DCO, to support grass roots innovation.


The LEADER+ Program is based on the idea of a total and integrated development of a vulnerable region based on a serious analysis of the region’s possibilities and limitations. This program aims - using innovative development strategies and action plans - to push the region forward based on the so-called “bottom-up” principle. That is, ideas and projects to be supported must be born in the local communities of the region where local organisations, local firms, innovators, fiery souls, consultants, etc. go through a creative process to identify the best qualified projects for the region. In few words, LEADER+ supports grass roots innovation. This means that the projects have to be deeply rooted in the local communities and a special committee will make the allocation of the resources, where the relevant actors will be represented. Twelve areas in Denmark were selected to receive support from LEADER+ program, with one of them being the Odsherred region.


In the application for funds from the LEADER+ Program, DCO emphasised that the projects selected should support the social and cultural capital of the region and create sustainable activities, firms and workplaces. The overall theme was: Improvement of life quality. In addition it is specified that support and founding will be given to projects that satisfy the following requirements:

  • Are knowledge and technology based so that the local products will be both more competitive and environmentally friendly,
  • Will take initiatives to facilitate access to new markets for small industries, and
  • Will carry out cultural and artistic activities endeavoured to shape the image of the region.


A Vision Conference

As mentioned above, it was decided to begin the LEADER+ Program as a Vision Conference, to be organised by the director of DCO and the author of this paper as the main facilitator. The objectives of the conference were both:

  • To create a discussion forum for the different actors around the program to develop common images of ideas, projects, visions and objectives for the program, and
  • To observe a Vision Conference in action and to study the development of the facilitation process; these experiences and approaches will be used in the future during other implementations of the program.


The theme of the conference was: Vividly local communities - Visions, ideas and goals for LEADER+ program in the region. The Vision Conference was carried out at the facilities of the Odsherreds Theatre Centre, a nice place where all the needed facilities were available. The director of DCO and the facilitators (the author and three of his students) met twice to design the conference. Two important tasks were dealt with:

  • The content and goals of the conference, and
  • The many practicalities related to time schedules, speakers, materials, meals, soft drinks, and other facilities that ought to be available.


The conference went ahead as planned. The invited speaker was brilliant, gave a lot of inspiration, and he gave many examples of simple projects that had been implemented with success in Sweden. He emphasised the importance of supporting small industries, and the necessity of having strategies for marketing and communication.


The reports of each sub-group show that their creative processes were quite different, this is probably due to different participants and different facilitators. In spite of that, many projects were suggested in the morning by each sub-group, on average 25 projects pr. group. It was not a problem while diverging but the wild ideas were missing. In the afternoon, all the sub-groups wanted to continue diverging and had difficulty selecting one or two projects for elaborating as an application. The plenary sessions went very well, very amusing, each sub-group very engaged in their ideas and projects, it reflected a good atmosphere and it was a lot of laughter, a good sign of creative work.


There were many projects within art and culture, and ecology and tourism. However, innovative projects within small industries and IT were missing. This shows the necessity of marketing the LEADER+ program in the sector of small industries and IT. The difficulties in elaborating concrete applications by the different groups show the need for DOC to give support and advice to potential innovators in relation to formulating applications.


In summary, the facilitator concluded in the final report that “The Vision Conference had been a positive experience. All the participants and the facilitators learned something. This conference was a big communication event where ideas, wishes, dreams, visions, strategies, plans, and objectives interacted with each other and got closer to each other in a constructive way”.


The European Tapestry Forum

From March the 2nd to the 4th, 2001, a three-day international workshop was carried out in Nykøbing Zealand, West Zealand, Denmark, supported by the author of this paper. The experiences obtained during the facilitation of seventeen women, all of them tapestry weavers representing Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Island, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Poland, and Austria, are reported here. These weavers wanted to start an organisation for tapestry weavers in Europe. They met for the first time at this workshop entitled: “Back to Basics – Tapestry in the New Millennium”. This workshop had three main purposes:

  • To register “the state of the art” of tapestry weaving in Europe,
  • To develop activities for the strengthening of tapestry weaving in the coming years, and
  • To organise European Tapestry Forum and its work to enforce European cooperation.


The workshop was organised by the Danish section of weavers, supported by the DCO. DCO hired a well experienced facilitator of workshops to conduct this event. The facilitator is also a professional visual artists being well acquainted with the problems of art and artists in modern societies. Let us first give some background of the problematic situation of the tapestry weavers.


The craft and art of tapestry in Europe has a long history. Les Gobelins in Aubusson, France, are rather well-known. Tapestry weaving in the last century has been characterized by single outstanding artists but they are very few of them in Europe. This is the main reason why in most countries, they have not been able to develop their own national platforms and organisations to reproduce and develop the art tapestry profession. They have to rely on the schools of arts and crafts, the museums of decorative arts, the art halls, etc. The period 1990-2000 had been very bad years for tapestry weaving in most Europe. Art schools, museums, galleries, art halls, etc. had completely disregarded this art form. They have been focusing more in design and applied art. To survive many tapestry weavers are moving to the borderlands of the craft exploring new expressions. The very few international exhibitions for textile art have moved to platforms for reflections on fine art. Moreover, two of the most important international events, the biennial in Lausanne, Switzerland, and the triennial in Helsinki, Finland, have been closed. These tendencies cause that the new generations and the public in general are not aware of the works of tapestry weavers. There is not doubt that to survive, the tapestry weavers as soon as possible have to start a process of renewal and visibility both national and at the European level.


The Danish section, a group of tapestry weavers in Denmark, decided to take the initiative for creating a forum to develop and implement a strategy that can give their profession a badly needed innovation and produce new impulses to give the profession visibility and better working conditions in the whole Europe. They wanted to create an organisation of tapestry weavers in Europe: The EUROPEAN TRAPESTRY FORUM (ETF for short), a European umbrella forum based on the national organisations. ETF should support both permanent and recurrent activities financed by the European countries and the EC. In the first letter of invitation send from Denmark by March 2000, the following activities were formulated:

  • Establishment of a virtual newsletter and gallery for tapestry weavers,
  • Establishment of an annual working seminar for tapestry weavers, and
  • Establishment of a censored triennial exhibition for tapestry weavers.


The Danish section applied for the support of DCO. DCO should be a secretariat, adviser, sparring partner and economic liable for the cooperation. The Danish section also urges the national contacts in each country to appoint a national working group that will participate in the establishment of ETF. They also emphasized that these working groups should have “inclination and courage to be forerunner for an innovative reinforce of the profession”. Finally, the Danish weavers enhanced that “their sophisticated craft must survive their generation and that they owe the future to pass it on a viable and innovative form”


The first event in this process was the organisation by the DCO of a workshop in Denmark in cooperation with the Danish section. Based on the feedback from the first letter and other contacts, twenty tapestry weavers were invited to a three-day workshop. The expenses were covered by Scandinavian and Danish fund sources.


Two weeks before the event, the Danish section contacted the facilitator after a suggestion of the director of DCO, to support the problem solving processes on one day (Saturday). It is rather unusual to contact the facilitator so late because usually the facilitator has to be part of the pre-planning process. The problem was that the organisers had no economic resources at the moment to pay the facilitator’s fee. In normal circumstances the facilitator will have refused to take the job. But he became very interested in the task due to its crucial relevance to tapestry art. The facilitator, as a visual artist, is also very concerned about the situation of art in modern societies in general and visual art in particular. The facilitator decides to take the job and demands a meeting with the Danish section before the event took place.


The ETF steering committee has now been working together for four years and they are about to realise many of the goals outlined in the workshop. The structure of the ETF has been set up, a pan-European forum for professional tapestry artists. This organisation has been set up by tapestry artists for tapestry artists to encourage the continuing development of the art of tapestry weaving in Europe. ETF is becoming strong and has many members.


In 2005-2006 ETF presented, ARTAPESTRY, a juried international exhibition of contemporary tapestries from Europe to be shown in Ålborg, Denmark, and Krefeld, Germany, (Cronenberg, 2005). This is ETF’s first large exhibition. Next, the website with the showcase gallery TAPESTRY MASTERS will be improved. The first full meeting of EFT members will be held in Denmark in the summer of 2006: Plans are also underway to give ETF a home base where seminars, workshops and artist-in residence programmes can be held.


Transnational Cooperation

LEADER+ West Zealand, Denmark, has taken the initiative to take the first steps towards transnational cooperation among some leader areas in North Europe. LEADER+ areas from Finland, Ireland, Scotland, Sweden and Denmark have shown special interest about cooperation around the theme: “young entrepreneurship”. Therefore, LEADER+ West Zealand, has planned, organised and carried out a workshop in cooperation with the author of this paper, the facilitator.


The workshop took place at The Kalundborg Production School, Svebølle, Denmark, during the time period December the 8th to December the 9th, 2004. A group of eight persons participated at the workshop representing LEADER+ areas from: Finland, Scotland, Sweden and Denmark. Most of these persons did not know each other in advance, but they have experience in working in groups from their jobs in their respective countries.


The main objectives of this workshop were:

  • To get an overview of the different local projects of the represented LEADER+ areas that can give basis for transnational cooperation around the theme: “young entrepreneurship”,
  • To select some concrete projects/ideas related to the theme of the workshop for further elaboration, and
  • To illustrate in practice how to organise and facilitate such an event as a participative and creative group work composed of two steps, first a divergent process and thereafter a convergent process.


This event was a very nice experience in the planning, development and implementation of a creative group work development. The facilitator had an “easy” and pleasant task due to the enormous engagement and motivation of the persons participating in this workshop. It was of vital importance that the group and the facilitator met together one day before the workshop day, the performing event. There was good time to learn to know each other and the dinner and the post dinner chat was a very fruitful warm-up process. This meant that the workshop the next day was a very productive and creative event. Having established roles, personalities, and norms, the group’s time attention, focus, and energy was increasingly directed at the group task and decreasingly concerned with group maintenance, procedural questions, or personalities. The creative environment provided by the Production School was also optimal for such a workshop. The facilitator conducted several synergetic processes. The facilitator was also convinced that the participants of this workshop have learn something about organising and facilitating creative processes so that they might use these experiences in their future work and meetings.


Two weeks after the workshop, a project from the action plan has already been implemented. A web-based network has already been established using SMART GROUP, a web based group information system managed by The Kalundborg Production School.


One month after the workshop, a sub-group presented a proposition for a project: The Entrepreneurship Camp 2005. The entrepreneurship camp aims to give young people the possibility to develop their creativity and entrepreneurship spirit. It is designed for young people in the age 14-19. This project was successfully implemented in summer 2005 and the camp was organised by LEADER+ Astrid Lindgrens Hembygd.


In addition, the created network is planning new cooperation possibilities and new ideas and projects related to young entrepreneurship in the near future.


Future Worshop at Fri&Fro

Fri&Fro (www.friogfro.dk) is a building association located in Egebjerg, at the north of Zealand, Denmark. It has been established for building house for the members of the community after the following principles:

  • To use sustainable materials and principles within building, sewage and waste,
  • To create and live in a community following collective principles, and
  • To minimize debts and speculations.


FRI&FRO started in 2004, after 2 years most houses for 16 families have already been builded following the above mentioned principles and experiencing the meaning of leaving in a community. During this period of time most energy has been used in the learning and practical aspects of building the houses. Some of the members of the community have by now experienced that rules, regulations and future visions do not correspond to the daily practice of the community. Other members do not agree with this point of view. Some members think that the principle of sustainability is not visible in the practice of the community. Other members think that everyday life does not work optimally. Some members give more importance to external activities while others are focusing more on internal aspects of the community.


These controversies and conflicts among the members of the community have caused a need “to be shake up” with the purpose to strength solidarity and the future visions for the community. Therefore, some of the members of the community have taken the initiative to start a process that should end formulating visions and goals for the future development of Fri&Fro.


The first step in this process was the organisation of a workshop to discuss important issues and problems that were experienced at the community. In January 2006, Fri&Fro applied to LEADER+ West Zealand for consulting assistance to organise and carry out such a workshop that should show the visions and possibility of actions for the community. LEADER+ West Zealand decided to support such application and recommended that the author of this book should be the organisator and facilitator of such a workshop. One member of Fri&Fro and the facilitator planned a one-day workshop, and after a meeting they agreed on the purpose of the workshop, the agenda, and the methods to be used. They also agreed in the use of FW as the main approach to structure the discussions.


The main purposes of the workshop were both:

  • To create a discussion forum for the community members to clarify which aspects of the future development they will seek to influence and which kind of methods will be used, and
  • To collect experiences about organising and carrying out future workshops that can be useful for the members of the community in their future work as a pivotal point for a local based and democratic process of change.


The participants were good during the divergent processes especially in the two first phases of the FW. Few times some ideas were criticized. Many ideas were produced in the morning of the workshop day. The two first phases were rather successfully.


In the implementation phase not all groups achieve implementable results in the form of action plans. For most groups the time available was not enough to produce actions. This was primarily because most participants were tired, very little energy was left. Better result could be achieved if another day was available for the implementation phase.


The facilitator pointed out at the end of the workshop that the actual situation is rather complex and messy. The problem solving process demands resources, experience and knowledge. Within this perspective, this FW should be regarded as a first step in the problem solving process. More workshops are needed.


Summarizing, the workshop was carried out in a very satisfactory way. The atmosphere was positive, constructive, and with a lot of engagement. It could have been desirable more time, another day to elaborate some action plans. Most participants were very enthusiastic with this form of work. This was expressed in the final evaluation.


In the final report, the facilitator formulated the situation of Fri&Fro using a metaphor:

All the members of the community are ready to sail together, they have already pack (houses) and they have an idea of where they want to go. But, they have not yet constructed the ship (the organisation) that will transport them. They have neither found the direction (strategy) they will follow.



12. Final Remarks


This paper has presented a holistic and multidisciplinary framework for dealing with problematic situations enhancing actors, activities, processes, tools, group work, and tasks. Our main focus has been the participative facilitation of creative processes for large groups. Furthermore, two real-life applications related to community work have been shortly described.


A central element in our discussion has been our conceptualization of creativity, creative processes, creative teams and the way how to enhance them. Our concepts are based in the research work and practical results of Amabile (1983) and Torrance (1979). More information on creativity tools and methods can be found in Courger (1995).


The principles of The Vision Conference: a one-day workshop designed for a large group of participants with the purpose of creating ideas and visions for the future about a specific theme, has been presented. Complex situations might demand a longer duration, from 2 to 4 days. The format of The Vision Conference has been constructed based on some concepts and experiences from three areas: the organisation of Future Workshops (Jungk and Müller, 1987), group facilitation (Heron, 1999) and creative problem solving (Courger, 1995).


Group work to deal with problematic situations has become a central activity in modern societies. We have seen that group work is not only a problem solving process but also interrelated to communication, learning and empowerment processes. These processes can be suitable conducted by a facilitation process. Effective and rewarding group work needs facilitation. Especially in situations where the participants do not know each other or are not very experienced in group working. See further Lave Wenger (1991).


To become a good facilitator is like in sport or art; you have to practice and to train your self. You will not become a good sportsman or artist just by reading books. If you are in a meeting at your local club, at your community, at work or any other organisation you belong to, try to convince people to organise those meetings as facilitated conferences and workshops, see further Schwarz (1994). See further Lave Wenger (1991).






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http://www.economistascoruna.org/eawp/eawp.asp?qsa=ES&qsb=1&qsc=11&qsd=145V idal, R. V. V. (2006) Creative and Participative Problem Solving – The Art and The Science, IMM, Technical University of Denmark, pp. 184 can be read/downloaded from:




Derechos reservados 2002. El permiso para reproducir algún artículo está garantizado si Documentos de Trabajo en Análisis Económico lo acredita, las copias no son vendidas y es en acto de mayor difusión del documento.

Fernando González-Laxe. (Universidade da Coruña)
Venancio Salcines. (Universidade da Coruña)
Andrés Blancas. Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas (UNAM)
Editor Asociado para America Latina:
Luis Miguel Galindo. Facultad de Ecomomía (UNAM)


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