Divergent Thoughts

How to take what you know and share it…

Topsy-turvy: upside down and inside out

You know the saying when you hit rock bottom there’s nowhere to go but up…well if we were to stretch it a little, this next facilitation method comes closest. Called Topsy-turvy by VIPP practitioners*, this method gets groups to approach problem-solving in a roundabout way. But first…

Definition of Topsy-turvyin utter confusion or disorder; with the top or head downward; upside down

It’s always a good idea to check if people know a word, especially if the entire method revolves around it. I remember introducing topsy-turvy at many workshops, only to get a blank look from some people. It happens. Should you decide to use topsy turvy to gather ideas, best to check if everyone knows what the word means. Or better still, call it by a name that’s familiar to them (might be useful to find out the equivalent of topsy turvy in the local language).

As the definition suggests, the method is crazy , looking at issues from a negative perspective and eventually turning it upside down to get to fresh, positive solutions. This is great for planning events such as workshops and is also suitable for problem-solving.

The process in a nutshell:

  • Take the activity you’re planning and give it a negative spin. Ask a question like: How can we mess up this 3-day workshop? If it is an issue or problem, you can formulate the question like this: How can we aggravate this situation further? What can we do to make sure we use up all our funding resources? 
  •  Ask them to share their destructive ideas. This may be disturbing for some, but that’s exactly what you need to do to get the best of this method. Remind them that this is just a creative process.
  • Write down these ideas on a flipchart.  
  • Now turn this negative list topsy turvy by taking each idea and rewriting it in a positive way (mirror opposite). Use a new flipchart paper. (The question now is: How can we ensure a successful workshop? or What can we do to make sure we conserve our resources?)
  • Voila –  you now have a new list of positive ideas to run a successful workshop or interesting suggestions to solve a problem.

While the method may start with some sense of confusion, within minutes, you’ll find that as people get bolder,  so do their ideas. Once the ideas run out, get the group to flip them around. You’ll be amazed by the results.  You may decide to keep all the ideas or to prioritize further, you could ask the group to vote on their favourite 2 or 3 ideas individually with dots. 

Topsy turvy is a short cut method that takes you from scary destructive scenarios to interesting workable solutions.

By getting people to think about all the things that can go wrong, you’re giving them the opportunity to explore negative aspects which are usually ignored, for fear of appearing pessimistic. In turn, people look at the issue with renewed interest and this  encourages them to steer away from stale, uninspired solutions.

*Visualisation in Participatory Programmes, UNICEF Bangladesh


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