QUERI – Quality Enhancement Research Initiative

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Quality Improvement Methods

2. Affinity Diagram

a. Definition: An affinity diagram organizes ideas according to their relationships. Notes about similar observations or ideas are posted and then grouped together visually so as to support insights and to promote creativity when thinking about them. The affinity diagram was created in the 1960s by the Japanese anthropologist Jiro Kawakita and thus is also sometimes referred to as the KJ method. It is helpful when there are many ideas and bits of disjointed information to consider, perhaps in the early stage of a research project. It is useful during a group discussion where people post ideas and the diagram helps make their organization coherent.

b. Literature: This is a relatively straightforward idea but not much literature is specific to it. Such diagrams are often discussed in much of the literature on quality improvement.

  • "Problem-Solving Tools for Analyzing System Problems: The Affinity Map and the Relationship Diagram", Lepley, Cyndi J. PhD, RN, Journal of Nursing Administration: December 1998 - Volume 28 - Issue 12 - pp 44-50

c. Example: Affinity diagrams have been applied in a wide variety of settings, from consumer research to project management. Once a set of ideas or issues are identified they can be grouped by similarities, often graphically, perhaps on a wall, in order to share and discuss the arrangement with a group of contributors. This graphic becomes a prompt for a group's discussion of insights or possible improvements to an issue. The affinity diagram can be used to develop ideas for an intervention for a given system or setting or to better understand the overall situation. For Example, causes for each problem among several problems are grouped together. It can be quite informal, such as ideas generated in a group discussion using Post-It notes:

group discussion using Post-It notes

d. Steps:

1) Determine the issue or general topic to be addressed and gather a team to discuss it.

2) In a group setting create a comprehensive list of ideas, information, or problems through brainstorming or a non-judgmental open discussion. A high volume of items is preferred without prejudging or eliminating any ideas.

3) Post these items on a sheet of paper or wall as they are identified, perhaps with sticky notes, so that they can be easily moved and rearranged.

4) Move the notes about so as to group together similar or related items. This could involve a hierarchy of groups and subgroups. If this is a team effort, discuss the changes together and collaborate to rearrange it.

5) Add group headings or titles to the groupings.

6) Other graphics can be added such as lines indicating connections between items or subgroups.

7) If appropriate, reduce the diagram to a reproducible document, perhaps as an outline or tree-like diagram. Also use it as a starting point for brainstorming ideas to address the issue or solve problems.