Rocking the Spectrogram

As I mentioned in my post, Lessons from the Road one of my favorite training exercises is the spectrogram, and no one runs it better than Gunner from Aspiration.  You can find a detailed description of how he does it here: (Note on both those links – you will get a password prompt when you try to access the page.  Just follow the instructions on the prompt.)

Using the spectrogram to look at influencing stakeholders

As this a great way to get discussion amongst participants going, and because I conduct training sessions on a variety of topics and in many different cultures, I find it helpful to reconfigure it depending on the context.  The power of it lies in the ability to get participants to engage in debate, listen to others and respond in how they are influenced by a comment.   This lesson can be extended to thinking about how their audiences will respond to campaign messaging and how influence will play out around the message.

One context is a social media training – and there just renaming it ‘Live Facebook’ and giving people the instructions to give a live comment on a status being made right there in the room.  The only difference is that instead of hitting the ‘like’ button, you get to state your stance with greater distinction given where you stand on the line.  It also works as a Twitter metaphor, giving participants an opportunity to reflect on the influence and reactions to their own tweets.  The power of social media is that it gives you the ability to listen and engage in discussion – so having an exercise that mirrors that experience  offline is invaluable.

It’s helpful to think about ways to run a debrief discussion to the spectrogram after you run it live.  When did people here a statement that made them move?  What arguments were the most persuasive?

After you run it live in a training event, you can then take the concept of a line and who agrees and who doesn’t, and apply it to different mediums.  Moving it to flip chart paper and post-its – where it can be used as a compliment to the ‘pyramid and half-wheel‘ exercise.

In this context I use it in a session I call ‘finding your data sweet spot.‘  In trying to think about how your data will influence different audience members.You can then use the spectogram to look at how people will react to you campaign and think about what will influence them.   Here Global Witness used it to analyse the positions of key stakeholders and how they influence each other around a campaign to assure that local people and civil society organisations are at the center of forestry deals.


In doing the analysis of where your stakeholders are on the spectrogram, it’s quite similar to how you look at the ‘half-wheel‘:

  • Those that agree – these are your allies and you need to mobilise them, give them something to do.  If you are in need of collecting data – these are folks you can enlist to help you, these are the people you also want to target if you want to crowd-source.  If you are organising actions, these are the people you need to get there.
  • Those that are between agree and neutral, – these are the people you need to motivate into action.  They need a nudge, perhaps a bit more convincing or a better way to connect to the issue.
  • The middle neutral ground – they need educating, so here’s where you would put your data to work, providing evidence to tell them something they didn’t know. But you need to think carefully about who they are and what evidence they will connect to.
  • For those that are between neutral and disagree.  You need them to re-examine and re-evaluate their position.  Strive to neutralise these folks, and you’ll need to provide strong evidence to disprove your opponents – those that are in the next category.
  • For those that are actively against, often these folks are beyond influence and may need force – perhaps exposing injustice or corruption.  But you might also find that it takes a longer period of time to get them to ‘reconsider’ or ‘re-evaluate’.  If you are arguing for ‘the greater good’ they may eventually see the light.  However this is unlikely to happen quickly.

Once you’ve done some analysis of where people are on the spectogram, you can then get people to think about who influences who, and what are the connections.  How can you leverage those connections for maximum impact?  What are the arguments that can be made which will most convince those that you need to convince?  What is the best use of your data in this context?

How are you rocking the spectrogram?  Leave a comment and let me know!