An example of a brainstorming session
Here's an example of a brainstorming session which I did with
a colleague and a student. We chose an essay topic which none of us is
an expert on -
'Discuss the Foot-and-Mouth Crisis in Britain
Here's what we came up with:
When exactly did it start?
It was the worst outbreak of foot-and-mouth since the 1960s, wasn't it?
Foot-and-mouth isn't fatal, to animals or humans. So why do animals have
to be slaughtered?
What do other countries do about foot-and-mouth?
Why was this outbreak so much worse than previous ones?
The way the government handled the crisis seemed to be connected with
the timing of the General Election. Governments don't like looking as
if they're not in control.
MAFF (Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) was disbanded after
the Election. Was this as punishment for handling foot-and-mouth badly?
Vaccination would have been a better policy than slaughter.
Why did the outbreak spread so fast? Isn't this to do with the fact that
animals are sent long distances for slaughter, so animals (and infections)
from all over the country come into contact with each other?
Is British farming too industrialised generally? Would farming on a more
local scale mean that infections were local too, and easier to control?
British farming's in a mess anyway - there was BSE, and all the stories
about food poisoning in eggs and chickens. And next we'll have GM crops.
Factory farming is cruel.
Farmers are greedy.
No they're not - it's the supermarkets who force them to work in the way
Isn't the head of Sainsbury's high up in the government? So what chance
is there of proper debate about food?
But farmers are really suffering - they have a high suicide rate, and
lots of them are struggling to make a living. They suffer from high fuel
prices too - it was farmers who were protesting with lorry drivers last
Farmers are a horrible bunch anyway - they're cruel to animals and they
block footpaths. Farmers trash the countryside.
The people who are really suffering are people who depend on tourism.
That's why the policy of slaughtering animals and keeping people off the
footpaths was a mistake.
Tourism is a much bigger industry than farming. We could do without farming
altogether - look in the supermarket. The food comes from all over the
Why does the farming industry have such influence on the government?
But you can't have a country without farmers.
Why not? They should really be working for tourists.
But everybody has a picture in their minds of farms as part of the countryside.
If you didn't have farms, there wouldn't be tourism either - nobody would
want to visit the countryside at all.
This session lasted half an hour - and we all felt that we could have
gone on much longer.
As you can see, we produced plenty of material. There's easily enough
there for a 2,000 word essay. In fact we'll need to start cutting this
down quite a lot.
Some of the questions kept recurring - for example, the question of whether
vaccination would have been a better policy than slaughter.
The brainstorm started with quite precise, detailed questions, like when
the outbreak started exactly. But it very soon got onto much broader issues,
about farming in general, about how government works, and about a conflict
between tourism and farming. There was also a conflict between two views
of farmers - are they much-loved traditional guardians of the real England?
Or greedy cruel exploiters?
Lots of material. But what can you do with it? Go on to find out.