Qualitative Cluster Analysis

Part 5:  Converting affinity buckets into qualitative clusters with definition: finding the bricolage.

In part four we developed a number of buckets of like-themed data points. These data points may come from many different sources and be placed in more than one bucket during your affinity sort. Working with someone with a different perspective from your own spread the data sheets out in front of you. Seek several that help define the central core of what holds the bucket together. Build a spider diagram with second and thirdly connected data points. Move them around until you bucket starts to look like a traditional correlation-based cluster analysis. Hypothesize the correlation between your many different small clusters and move them into proximity with one-another. Start to label the areas of your qualitative clustering with theme names. Be creative in naming.


A large wall space is helpful. Living with the clusters you build for a period of time is helpful in your effort to build a deeper understanding. Walking others through your draft work can help you gain new insight. Feel free to modify as you go.  Because you want to give this stage some hang time it may not be practical for you to take over a large enough space. 4 foot by 8 foot sheets of foam core can be a big help. Transfer your clusters to the foam core when the picture starts to stabilize.

Is not uncommon for a significant project to yield 75 to 80 initial buckets. In the selection process we often see 12 to 15 emerge as connected to the project challenge, significant and a potential fit with an organization’s strategy. It is important to remind you that you are depending on your informed intuition to make these decisions. You are approaching what we call “problems worth solving”. You have found an area that is rich with need and opportunity, fits your company’s mission and has enough team buy-in to go to the next level.

In the next Innovative Issues I will discuss selecting vs. eliminating and  moving from qualitative clusters to meaningful stories and start to hint at building testable hypotheses.

Publication is planned for January 2017. Chris would enjoy hearing about your synthesis experience, the good, the bad and the ugly… and as always volunteer readers are welcome.

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