The IPI Idea Charrette

Is an intensive, often fun—sometimes  cathartic—workshoppy, collaborative method for exploring, shaping, and refining an idea—usually with the goal of reaching a point of clarity about a specific deliverable or project. Most typically that deliverable is a book or a presentation/talk, but it could be something else idea-related.

The key benefit of the Idea Charrette is that it separates the process of idea development from the act of writing. Many people find that, while their ideas flow freely in oral form, the flow is constricted by the demands of writing. They feel hampered by the medium in which there is no give and take or immediate feedback. The admonishments of the third grade teacher start to echo in the mind. In the charrette, the facilitator takes on the task of choosing words, while the participants are free to range through their minds for ideas, messages, relevancies. The charrette process helps participants avoid a common problem: trying to write too perfectly and too soon.

Format. For greatest benefit, the charrette is conducted over three consecutive days, but it can be done in one intensive day or the days can be separated over a period of a few weeks. The sessions involve conversation, question and answer, whiteboarding, rumination, debate, and flights of discursion, which usually end up being relevant.

Preparation/ready state. The IPI Idea Charrette is best done when you have gathered a good deal of material about the idea, defined an objective and a project, but feel at a point of stuckness or uncertainty, and think some  outside reference and collaboration might be helpful.

Participation.  One to five participants. All must have a serious stake in the idea. I facilitate.


The charrette, however configured, comprises six segments:

1. Ingredients. The data, opinions, emotions, scenes, worries, obsessions, insights, theories, findings, references, anecdotes, and people that pertain to the idea. In no order and with no requirement of usefulness.

2. Themes. The most important things you want to express to people. The things you care about most. The most urgent ideas you want to get across. This is your psychic press.

3. Argument. How you would express the idea to someone who knows nothing about it. Why is it important now? How did you arrive at this idea? Why are you doing it? Why should anyone care? What might the idea accomplish or how might it have an effect? This is the urgency of the audience.

4. Structure. What are the components of the book (chapters) or presentation (segments), in order, with high-level description of the purpose and general content of each one.

5. Hook. What is the single word, phrase, or sentence that captures the essence of the idea? (Very difficult.)

6. Narrative. The time has come for synthesis: to distribute the ingredients, messages, argument, and hook over the structure.

The OED definition:  "Chiefly N. Amer. (orig. Architecture). A period of intense (group) work, typically undertaken in order to meet a deadline. Also: a collaborative workshop focusing on a particular problem or project; (Town Planning) a public meeting or conference devoted to discussion of a proposed community building project."

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