Affinity Diagram

Affinity Diagram is a method to use whenever participants need to organize ideas into coherent groups in order to better understand their relationships.  Affinity diagrams are useful for organizing potentially large numbers of ideas into natural themes. 

Common uses of affinity diagraming include:

  • Draw out common themes from a large amount of information
  • Discover previously unseen connections between various ideas or information
  • Brainstorm root causes and solutions to a problem

When to use it?
Frame: to organize a number of seemingly disparate ideas or issues into organized categories.  Affinity diagramming can help to build shared understanding.

Generate: To organize brainstormed elements resulting from a proto-typing or solution finding design session.

How to do it?

  1. Explain the problem to the participants, and if appropriate allow participants to create their own issues/topics in a brainstorming activity.

  2. Ask participants to stick their brainstormed notes on the flip chart paper, close to any other notes on a similar topic.

  3. If designing, include users as participants, and group items from a user perspective.

  4. Once consensus has been reached on the grouping, use a different coloured sticky note to name each group.

Affinity Diagramming is a flexible tool that can be used with a number of different audiences including large plenary discussions, or small-break-out groups.  The tool is best used when there are a number of ideas being discussed, and a need to organize these ideas presents itself.

Affinity Diagrams are usually completed in a short period of time, approximately 30 minutes-1 hour.

Pros and Cons

  • Affinity diagramming is a simple and cost effective tool for soliciting ideas from a group and obtaining consensus of how information should be structured. 
  • Results from this exercise can help sharpen the focus of what is being examined during a particular facilitated exercise.


  • Depending on the subject matter, finding agreed upon affinities between topic areas may be difficult.

Note that deciphering the information being communicated in an affinity diagram may be difficult for some people. Some facilitated guidance may be needed.



Image Source: Innovation and Advanced Education – Regional Economic Dashboard Workshop 

Additional Resources

Affinity Diagram:  How To