Pair, quad, octet

From Faster Than 20

This is an exercise that can be used to help a group establish its focus and get started in an open-ended workshop intended to produce tangible results.

Liberating Structures calls it 1-2-4-all.

Related methods worth considering are the World Cafe model and the Fishbowl model. (See the Group Interventions page for more.)


This model permits participants to begin introducing themselves, their backgrounds, and their goals for the event almost immediately, in a substantive way. This can be a great benefit where it is desirable to get the group to take ownership of a set of problems or a common goal; by thinking through the needs verbally and collaboratively from an early stage, the organizers/facilitators can double-check their assumptions about group buy-in, and refine the way goals are presented throughout the event.

How it works

People pair up for a few minutes, then the pairs combine, and then the groups of four combine. During the process, participants move from introducing themselves to exploring concrete ideas. Then, each group of eight reports back to the whole group. The facilitator should float among groups throughout the process to keep the pulse, perhaps making suggestions to guide the bigger groups toward reportable outcomes.

Case study from GLAMcamp DC, February 2012

This event brought together 25 people with varying levels of experience to improve the connections between Wikipedia and U.S.-based cultural institutions (museums, libraries, archives). Eugene Eric Kim of Groupaya advised on the advance design of the event, and Pete Forsyth of Wiki Strategies facilitated. Some background here:

In this case, we had about two hours for an introductory exercise for a three day event. Here is how we used those two hours. (The timing was adjusted on the fly, as it became apparent through listening in on discussions that introductions were going well and could use more time.)

  • Lori’s brief (15 min) overview of the issues we were seeking to take on,
  • Leaving laptops behind, we gathered in a circle for a round of brief (one sentence, 15 min) introductions
  • Each participant paired up with a stranger, for a more in-depth introduction (8 min)
  • Each pair joined another pair, continued introductions, began exploring project ideas (15 min)
  • Groups of 8 continued discussing, began categorizing ideas, took notes on butcher paper (25 min)
  • Each group of eight selected one or two people to report back to the whole group. (20 min)

This model worked well for this event, and could presumably work with a wide range of group sizes. It worked well to combine introductions (we preceded this with very brief introductions to the whole group, with the understanding that a more in-depth intro period was right around the corner) and substantive engagement.

In the final reports to the big group, we found each octet had arrived at similar (but not identical) lists of tasks. This provided a good segue into establishing working groups and objectives for the three-day event.

The pages of butcher paper produced by each group proved to be important resources throughout the weekend, as we moved into the production stage of the event.