Amnesty International, OpenIDEO, and Brainstorming

By guest author: Shu Wang

On 11/3, I attended an Amnesty International + OpenIDEO Brainstorming Workshop, led by four members from the Boston IDEO office. Our challenge was to think of ways Amnesty International could help care for the supporters of unlawful detainees, such as their families, as well as ways to raise awareness about unlawful detainment among the general public. For those further interested in this issue, visit the OpenIDEO page here:

We broke off into teams of 7-8 people. My group consisted of an interesting array of people from the Sloan School, the MIT Media Lab, and the Harvard Kennedy School. Using IDEO brainstorming techniques, including mounds of Post-It notes and Sharpies, the group came up with over 60 ideas, some practical, like setting up a network between victims’ families so they could support each other, while others wilder, like detaining politicians so that they could understand what the experience feels like. Some of the winning ideas included setting up a peer lawyer service and creating an interactive map connected with social media, in order to show users the people in their networks that have ever been affected by illegal detainment.


While everyone has had experience with “brainstorming” in a group, I love how IDEO breaks down the process and separates it from the process of refining ideas. Internally or within a group, we often dismiss viable ideas because they are half-baked or sound crazy at first, but IDEO’s process minimizes this.

According to the IDEO folks, here are a few rules for a productive brainstorming session:

  1. Throw out tons and tons of ideas. Make them crazy and wild. Feed off of other people’s ideas.
  2. Make it visual. Diagrams and sketches are a great way to conceptualize your idea.
  3. No judging during the brainstorming phase. That’s for later when we refine the ideas.
  4. Stay on topic. Only one person should speak at a time while sharing ideas.

I hope that these tools will be useful to IDEAS Competition teams trying to come up with product or implementation ideas. It’s a lot of fun and great to see all the possibilities your team generates!

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