How to get your virtual workshop participants to quickly and collectively generate great ideas and insights (AKA 1–2–4-All)

4 min readFeb 13, 2022


Do you wish you had a way to immediately include everyone in a virtual (or face-to-face) session? Would you like to provide an opportunity for all voices to be included in generating more and better ideas, regardless of how large your group is? Do you have a need to balance the loudest voices in the room with the quietest ones, and give everyone a chance to exchange on a topic?

Today, I’d like to present you with a structured discussion methodology from Liberating Structures that will give your participants the opportunity to collectively generate more and better ideas, regardless of the group size.

1–2–4-All principles

This process will tap into the collective intelligence and wisdom of the groups and help your audience generate ideas and solutions in a rapid fashion.

For this process you will need the following:

  • Participants, each with access to pen and paper
  • If online, a virtual conferencing tool that allows to quickly generate breakout rooms. If in person, a space that allows people to easily and quickly move around their chairs or around the space, from plenary to smaller groups
  • A guiding question to the group that can be answered for themselves, as well as collectively. This could be an issue of relevance to the whole group, a problem to resolve or a proposal put forward. Make sure to frame this question unambiguously, and define any terms if needed.

The principle of 1–2–4-All is that everyone in the group is included (except for the facilitator) and has an equal opportunity to contribute. It has the added benefit of giving everyone a chance to connect and discuss with a small number of participants, which is quite valuable in online settings where connection is missing.

1: Invite the participants to silently reflect on the question

This part is done individually, and you may even want to invite the participants to write down their own ideas or answers to the guiding question.

In an online setting, I recommend typing the question as a prompt in the chat as well, and giving participants one minute to write down some ideas and giving them some quiet (not too loud!) reflective music without words (like piano, classical music, any simple melody will do). The stopping of the music will give the auditory cue to the participants that the reflection time has ended. You can now proceed to stage two.

2: Pair up your participants, and send them out into a breakout room

In a face-to-face meeting, the invitation would be for people to go into pairs and find a spot to discuss and generate ideas, based on the guiding question. Online, this can easily be done on platforms such as Zoom, by pairing up participants randomly and sending them into a two-to-three minute breakout room sessions to generate ideas, based on their common findings and impressions.

Invite participants back to the main group to to give them the next instruction:

4: Double the pairs from step 2 into groups of 4

Shortly after your participants have returned from their virtual breakout rooms, put two pairs together until you have a number of groups of 4 to be sent into another breakout session, this time for four-to-five minutes. Together, the four people will share and develop ideas from the previous breakout session, and notice what they have in common, what is different.

All: In plenary, invite participants to share interesting ideas generated in the groups

Depending on the size of the group, the amount of time you have and how you want to harvest the knowledge that was generated, you could ask participants to type interesting ideas in the chat, have a few group representatives to open the microphone, to share ideas with the big group.

Be sure to record or harvest the output of this conversation, especially if you are not able to invite everyone to contribute orally. You could even invite participants to write their contributions on a virtual whiteboard (Miro, Mural, Padlet or other) in order to allow a very large group of people to ensure no idea is lost, or even to anticipate a future stage in which some of the ideas are put to use.

1–2–4-All Results

By the end of this process, your group will have collectively generated, developed and discussed a great number of ideas, without requiring approval or buy-in. You will also have avoided the all-too-common trap of a conversation being influenced by the presence of a leader in the room.

This method will be useful to groups who are facing a common challenge or innovation opportunity, or need to unlock an existing conversation that was ‘stuck’.

This method is one of many methods available in the Liberating Structures menu. Liberating structures was developed by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless.

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Virtual facilitator by day | Ultra learner by night