This work started with the question above. My initial response was ‘well it depends on what you want.’ A few hours work later we’d worked up a design for a workshop that was likely to go to plan. How hard can it be? That depends, what follows is one example that can be used as a guide. A word of caution – this planning was for a straightforward ‘low disagreement’ workshop.
You’ll find in the article
- description of the planning
- the thinking behind the choices that were made
- The power of pointing at stuff
- the outcomes we got
- things we’d do differently
If you have a similar need in a similar context there is also a checklist at the end you can use.
The workshop was for a local University Department. They would like to design future courses and assessments using input from employers. There will be about 35 attendees – split between the University and local employers. A “back of a cigarette packet” calculation just for the attendees time is about £7000. This workshop is important and expensive.
This article is about planning this workshop. The design and use of tabletop data collection sheets played a large part in the success of this workshop. See Part 2 of this article for more information about what happened on the day. There is a takeaway checklistat the end of the article for planning similar workshops.
What makes this workshop worth everyones time?
The output of the workshop is to
get ideas and information from employers so the University can better meet the needs of employers and create a more work like experience for students.
We want to gather information to be used to design future courses and assessments.
What type of workshop do we need?
From the outcomes of this workshop we’re looking to run an Information Gathering type workshop. The image below shows a few of the alternatives we could run.
Workshops that are ‘Plan-able and then go to plan’ are on the left. Further right are the workshops you need to plan, and you don’t expect they will go to plan. It’s useful to know when these types of workshop are appropriate, and when not to use them.
There is a lot emergence on the right hand side and less on the left. We’re not expecting there to be a lot of unexpected stuff in our workshop.
I’ll write about planning and running workshops on the right hand side of this image in a future article.
How much planning do we need?
The rough cost of attendees time for your workshop puts the time and cost of planning and facilitation into perspective. And it’s not just the time costs, there is an opportunity cost too. The right people are unlikely to be in the same room again anytime soon.
You’ll need to decide how much planning is right.
Start with the outcome
Start by mentally drafting a ‘Thank you for attending – this is what we learned and this is what we’re going to do‘ email.
Knowing what is going to happen with the outputs from the workshop helps you to design to get those outputs.
The information in this email informs the way you will introduce the workshop. By starting with what you’re going to do with the information you focus on what you want.
Where does the workshop fit in the big picture?
The workshop is in the area at the bottom of the image above. It helps to see how this workshop fits into the big picture to get everyone on the same page.
Tabletop Data Collection Sheets
This is visual part of the workshop and the bit that we got really good feedback on.
Table top data collect sheets on every table can do lot of heavy lifting in the workshop when designed well.
The sheets can
- Be a visual indicator of the purpose and outputs for the workshop reinforcing the introduction and instructions from the facilitator.
- Provide context for discussion like “We’re discussing this bit?”, “Where does this part fit” while pointing.
- Show where more data might be required – look for the gaps that don’t have post it’s
- Break down things into the parts you want. There are 3 parts to specialist skills in the sheet below.
- The sheets Provide something to point at. Something happened when the container for an idea is a post it note you can point at, rather than the person who said the words. (See my Just Draw the Thing Manifesto for more details)
These data collection sheets provide context for conversations and allow participants to question what is on the sheet – rather than challenging the person who added it.
Creating all these sheets for the workshop by hand might take an hour or so. If you have a A0 plotter you may want to design the sheets to be printed.
By pointing at the data collection sheet attendees can indicate what they’re talking about, and have questions, conversations and disagreements with the data and not the person. As a facilitator you can see if there are areas that are over or under represented by looking at the number of ideas in each part of the collection sheet. There is a Power to Pointing at Stuff!
Let people know what to do
Last in the planning is letting people know what is expected from them. For each table there needs to be a local employer and representatives from the University. There are not strict roles – anyone can write notes on the data collection sheets, but it’s the local employers who are providing the answers to the questions.
Practice your introduction. The Words Matter.
The way the facilitator introduces the workshop is vital. A few of the things that need to be in the introduction for this workshop are
Why are we all here
What are we going to do
A shared outcome that everyone wants
The opportunity we have today
What is going to happen – how it’s going to work
The introduction is vital to a good outcome. You can refer to it during the workshop if things are not going the way you want. Things that are not planned but still meet the shared outcome might be encouraged.
Putting it all together
For Information Gathering Workshops we can use the checklist below.
Make sure that this is appropriate for your workshop. This checklist is context specific for Information Gathering Workshops that are unlikely to have much drama!
Don’t forget the standard Workshop 101 stuff. Location, accessibility, safety, duration, refreshments, break times, spare pens, name badges etc. Once you have that:
- Check everyone is likely to have a shared goal that is within reach. The goal should not be reliant on lots of things out of the control of attendees. If there isn’t a shared goal, stop.
- What information inputs are required? It’s unlikely you’ve in a completely new space for ideas or action. Where are you now? If there is likely to be disagreement, stop.
- What outcomes do you want to happen with the outputs of this workshop. Be as specific as you can. Are these likely to be wanted by all attendees? If not, stop.
- There will be a ‘system’. Inputs, data, outputs. Be clear about this. People like to see how what they are doing fits in a bigger picture. You can mention this in the introduction.
- Is everyone likely to be happy to be at the workshop? If you’ve got drama or conflict between attendees, stop.
- Decide on your outputs from the workshop and the best way to collect this information so that is is usable in the next step. I’d recommend the tabletop data collection method.
- How will you know that the workshop is going OK? The visual data collection sheets that gather data into ‘context’ provide visual feedback and a way to point at the sheet and ask ‘What’s Missing Here?’.
- If you’ve reached a reason to stop your workshop is not just straightforward data collection. You’ll need some additional design and facilitation skills not covered here. I’ll write about this next, but if you’d like a chat message me.
Lastly – what would we do differently?
- We’d look to get the tabletop data collection sheets printed out. They can still retain the hand drawn feel. It took a few hours to draw all the sheets up.
- We’d put a visual for the roles on the table, and maybe direct people to tables based on role
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