Card visualization


Card visualization is a participatory method for capturing data that uses paper cards to allow groups to brainstorm and share their ideas.

A card visualization session revolves around a brainstorming group which uses individual paper cards to express their thoughts about particular ideas or issues. These cards are then pinned to a board in front of the group for collective consideration, discussion, and agreement.

This technique is particularly useful in synthesizing group ideas, encouraging consensus, and prompting discussion. Another important advantage of card visualization is that it strongly encourages feedback and ideas from all participants in a group, including those who may not normally contribute directly to the conversation as a result of shyness or lack of engagement. Finally, the participatory aspect of the option can instill feelings of empowerment among participants who feel that their personal ideas are being carefully considered.

To conduct the process, a facilitator begins first by explaining the card visualization concept, and then asking the group a specific question, or raising a specific issue – for example, “which components of the project do you feel are most important to evaluate”? Colored cards and markers are passed out, and each participant is encouraged to contribute one or more ideas/responses to the prompt. Different colored cards are used for different questions. Once done, all the cards are collected, and the facilitator reads through each to ensure that he or she fully understands the responses provided. (If not, the participant who wrote the card is asked to clarify.) Next, the cards are clustered, on a pinboard, by categories or labels proposed by the group. Each cluster is labeled, and the results of the session are summarized in group discussion along with reflections about insights gained. Finally, the clusters are removed from the pinboard and saved for later consultation. This process should take between 10-30 minutes.


" UNICEF Bangladesh supported the aims of the 1990 World Conference on Education for All, in April, 1991 by organising a series of participatory visualisation workshops which employed cards for collecting and synthesising participant’s ideas and insights. Drawing together a group of government, NGO, and academic participants who shared few common points of interaction around educational development, the workshop began with a decided lack of participation or involvement from the guests. Sensing this reserve, the facilitator switched towards a card visualisation session which quickly encouraged involvement and a sense of ownership among the group."

(“VIPP: Visualisation in Participatory Programmes”, UNICEF Bangladesh, 1993, p. 142.)

Advice for choosing this method

  • Be aware that this method requires a skilled facilitator to ensure the process runs smoothly and can be time-intensive with larger groups.

Advice for using this method

  • Begin by advising participants to write in bullet-point, write legibly, and try to avoid one-word cards.
  • Provided that the group is consulted first, the facilitator may begin clustering cards into categories as they arrive, to reduce necessary discussion time. Cards with duplicate answers or content can also be left out to reduce redundancy, with their author’s consent.
  • Participants can take an active role in facilitation – reading out cards, clustering, etc – to help reduce demands on the investigator running the session.
  • Mark each card with a small mark in the corner indicating which cluster they belong to, should the stacks become disorganised later.


Gawler, M. (2005) "Card Visualization" in Useful Tools for Engaging Young People in Participatory Evaluation. (UNICEF) Retrieved from (PDF, 1.3MB)

Salas M A, Tillmann H J, McKee N and Shahzadi N (2003) Visualization in Participatory Programmes VIPP How to Facilitate and Visualise Participatory Group Processes Bangladesh: Southbound for UNICEF.

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