Facilitation Card Decks

Edit: February, 2014. If you are interested in facilitation decks, see also these posts: http://www.fullcirc.com/?s=facilitation+card+decks

Edit: January 6, 2012 – Just out, this great deck on process patterns. groupworksdeck.org – I’ll be blogging about them soon, but want to attach this URL to this blog post as it seems to get a lot of hits!

I love things you can touch and play with when facilitating face to face. This is probably why I was so attracted to the “drawing on walls” involved in graphic facilitation, kinesthetic modeling and just plain PLAY as a way to work together.

I have a stack of different card decks that have been created for various purposes that I use. I wanted to share some of them, and find out what you use and how. First a disclaimer. I know many of the people who produced these sets. They have not paid me to talk about them. I disclose below which sets I got for free.


IDEO Method Cards
I’ve been using these cards for years and in almost every way except as design method cards. I use the front side with the images to get people talking to each other or jumpstart brainstorming or stalled conversations. For introductions and starters, I spread the cards on the table(s) and ask people to pick a card that they are attracted to. I don’t tell them why. Then we do introductions with the cards. Sometimes I simply ask people to introduce themselves by saying why they were attracted to the card. To  tie to the theme of the meeting, I’ll ask them to  say something about the topic using the image. This requires more creativity and often more laughter – so if you need to break the “formality” barrier, the laughter is helpful.

When I need to help a group jump out of a rut or jumpstart thinking, we pull out the images and do word association just to get the mental juices going. Again, fun, funny and it works.

The cards themselves are expensive ($49 USD). You used to be able find them online to download and print. The old download on the Stanford site doesn’t seem to work. Boo hoo! Or get creative and make your own out of magazine pictures, Flickr creative commons images or your own pictures. Method Cards – Case Studies – IDEO , some ideas on Slideshare, and Boing Boing review of the cards.

KM Method Cards
Patrick Lambe and the folks at Straitsknowledge created a deck of cards to introduce people to knowledge management and knowledge sharing methods. the frotn of the card has a little drawing, and the backs give an overview of either a method, approach or tool. I have not used them many times yet, but we’ve used them similar to the Social Media card game (which itself is a great free resource) or as a rotating conversation starter on KS methods.  Key terms are highlighted on the cards and you can tell I’m an online gal. I keep wanting to click on them to a hyperlink! They have a tips and user community site at Methodcards.net

What’s Your Story
These larger format, beautiful cards by Corban & Blair are very simple. They have story starter questions on each card designed to help people enter into conversations with each other.  Pretty.  Straightforward.

The Organizational Zoo Character Cards
The cards and the book from Arthur Shelley us animals as as a way to metaphorically look at roles and behaviors in the workplace. These involve humor and a little bit of risk – which makes them interesting. I have only played with them in  small, informal groups and have not used them with clients. I need to find an opportunity. This one again has a user community, known as the Zoo Ambassadors. (I was given a set as a trade for Digital Habitats from Arthur!)

Free the Genie
Colorful and related to the IDEO cards, these from IdeaChampions all have the same front – so no visual stimulation beyond the bright colors. The back of each card has an element or idea relating to “attend,” “intend,” suspend,”extend” and “connect. At the bottom there is a provocative quote. Again, I’ve just played with these, but I can imagine their use in strategic planning, review and brainstorming. The questions could be used as jumpstarters or ice breakers. The quotes are what I think make them unique.

The Mingle
New on the scene for me are these card sets from Parallax Consulting. (I was given two sets, one to look at and one to give away, which I shall do next week in Rome!) These are conceptually similar to the cards that stimulate stories and conversations, but they have a particular structure to use with circulating groups of up to 20 where people ask each other the question and record the answer. Later the answers are used as a way to introduce each other. The card sets are much less costly ($12.00 USD/set) which is a good thing because you write on them and would need a new set each time. The nice thing about this is that people can take their card away with them to remember the activity.  From a visual standpoint they are not about the visuals and all about the text. There are five different thematic sets, plus ideas for different applications. Again, I haven’t used these yet and hope to do so soon.

There are also thematic sets, like the clever US centric Media Heroes from Seattle’s Reclaim the Media project (though I struggle to read the tiny text!)

Do you use similar cards decks? Which ones? How do you use them?

Edit: March 10/14

16 thoughts on “Facilitation Card Decks”

  1. Hi Nancy

    Thanks for mentioning our KM Method Cards! I’m delighted you have found them useful. We also have a set of “Organisation Culture Cards” which are great for getting conversations going around values, behaviours and change in organisations. They are somewhat related to Arthur’s Zoo Cards, but are not designed with profiling in mind, more about the broader organisational culture perspective. And they are designed as playing cards, so you can play solitaire or poker with them and claim you are working on culture analysis if you get caught! Seriously, there is a “culture poker” game on the http://www.methodcards.net tips site. I’ll send you a set to play with.



  2. What a great post. I must confess I love games, card games and board games and it is great to see how someone is using card games in their facilitation.

    I have dabbled with using games, mostly created around scenarios, as a way of learning, during face to face workshops as part of a consultancy engagement. I have the long term intention to utilise them more, I know I have only just scratched the surface.

    What is great about them is the seeing and feeling of the cards/game pieces as you suggest. It is also great when they bring theory a lot closer to practice by simulating the underlying organic systems that exist and provoke reflection and change.

  3. Jason, thanks for adding your insights. I had not thought about the connection between theory and practice – I’ll use that in my planning next time. Thanks!

    Patrick, I got the cards. Thanks! They are on the stack of “to be pl;ayed with soon!”

    Yesterday I used my IDEO cards again and had two things happen – one familiar, and one a bit new.

    The familiar thing was at least one person wanted to keep her card. A coworker put it back, but I would have let her keep it.

    The unfamiliar was that someone wrote on the card to change its meaning for them. That was also really cool.

    The fact is, I need to buy a couple more decks!

  4. I use the Creative Whack Pack by Roger von Oech to encourage people to think about problems from different perspectives. I have had mixed responses. The more ‘buttoned up’ the audience, the less they appeal. I just love them myself.


    1. Thank, Geoff, for the pointer to vonOech’s Whack Pack and the reflection about fit with the people present. I used my story cards with a group earlier this year, because the sense amongst our organizing group was that they might need “warming up” to tell their stories. Well, they didn’t and they resented the time it took to do the picture/story warm up. I should have read the room better!

  5. Hi Nancy. Greetings from Sydney. Just a note to thank you for introducing me to the Ideo cards during the workshop you ran at the Learning Technologies conference in Mooloolaba. I used them during my workshop for a Blended Learning conference last month. They were a great icebreaker. For those interested in purchasing them from Australia, cost & freight is about $72. I look forward to using them lots.
    I appreciate the facilitation tip. Thank you, Nancy.

    1. Thanks for the Australia purchase info, Alison.

      I need to buy a new deck here in the US. I am finding that people fall in love with images and want to keep their cards!

  6. We’ve recently published a new facilitation deck of cards. Based on the macro environment (STEEP/PESTLE) and the usage of different “Patterns of Change” you can design your own creative or strategic sessions. See the foresightcards.com website for more information/workshop manuals.

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