Synectics Theory holds that the real meaning in a statement comes from places other than the pure content of the words.
The theory has direct application to qualitative research, particularly when the objective of this research is to conceptualize, or synthesize a concept or idea from a body of material on the subject at hand. In particular, the theory suggests that the moderator or group leader in a conceptualization (i.e., ideation) session will have to install a special set of exercises or probes to extract the true meaning from the statements of participants from inputs or stimuli such as subtext, tone, diction, demeanor, depth, cadence, body language, gesticulation, syntax, repetition, emphasis, and the like.
Typically, a specially trained moderator in such a session will encourage participants to speak freely about a subject participants regard as less threatening or problematic than the true subject matter of the ideation. Once participants are in a generative mode with respect to that less threatening subject, the moderator guides them toward closure and completion (i.e., the solving of an apparent problem) on that subject.
Through this exercise, the moderator takes careful note of the unique process by which that particular group moved toward closure, using semiotic analytic technique, a combination of the disciplines of syntactics, semantics, and pragmatics.
Remembering this process, the moderator uses additional probes to guide the group toward the more difficult subject, at this point avoiding the issue of closure. The moderator replicates the previous generative phase and simply builds an inventory of ideas on the subject, allowing the dynamic or process to continue unobstructed.
At a point the moderator judges appropriate, he or she refers the group to the inventory of ideas and guides them toward a synthesis of the ideas. This allows participants to avoid the threat or hurt of taking responsibility for a specific idea, its disapproval, or its defeat.
The trained moderator makes judgments about the relevance of individual statements to an emerging consensus on the basis of observation of the original dynamic and a set of rules dealing with four key issues: generalization, deletion, distortion, and contradiction. Designed probes help the moderator sort out these matters when they are not readily apparent.
This final interpretive stage constitutes “closure” for the ideation process, for the moderator does not ask the group what its areas of agreement are. Instead, the moderator cites the primary elements of the apparent (i.e., interpreted) consensus as closure and leads the group toward issues of implementation from that point. This way of handling the final stage reduces the number of irrelevant debates about what the group appeared to agree on and focuses the attention of participants on a more constructive discussion that simply assumes what these areas of agreement are.
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