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How to design an effective workshop: considerations for success

Workshops are powerful tools for fostering engagement, promoting collaboration, and generating innovative ideas. However, organising a successful workshop requires careful planning and thoughtful execution. In this blog, we’ll explore some essential considerations when putting together a workshop that not only achieves its objectives but also ensures a positive and impactful experience for participants.

Photo: a group of people sat around a table having a conversation with coffees  and laptops
Photo credit: Brooke Cagle from Unsplash

Establishing purpose and aims: meeting people where they are

Before diving into workshop logistics, it’s crucial to clearly define the purpose and aims of the event. Understanding the starting points of the participants is vital. Tailor the workshop to cater to their needs, interests, and experiences. This inclusivity breaks down any perceived barriers and empowers participants by acknowledging their relevance and power in the process.

Informed choice plays a significant role in engagement. Provide participants with the necessary information to make informed decisions. Encourage them to think beyond their usual experiences to foster the development of meaningful and transformative changes.

Managing numbers: optimal group sizes for interaction

The number of participants in a workshop can significantly impact its effectiveness. For face-to-face workshops, consider forming groups of 4 to 10 people. If the participant count exceeds this range, create multiple groups with a designated facilitator and note-taker for each small group.

For online workshops, aim for 3 to 8 participants per group, allowing for a productive group discussion. Employ breakout rooms with facilitators for each group to encourage active participation and engagement. Prepare for potential over-subscription/drop-outs by planning for more/fewer registrants, and be ready to adapt on the day if needed.

Planning varied activities: engaging and inclusive approach

A workshop’s success hinges on its ability to engage participants with varied activities. Start with a clear introduction and conclusion, inviting people to invest their time. Tailor activities to accommodate different learning styles and ensure accessibility of language and content.

Consider the pace of the workshop, and be flexible when needed to accommodate enriching discussions that may require more time. Create a clear flow by breaking down the workshop into sections with flexible timings. Avoid using jargon or terminology that may alienate participants from different backgrounds.

Recording and analysing: capturing valuable insights

Recording discussions is essential for thorough analysis and documentation. Assign a dedicated note-taker for each discussion to ensure comprehensive coverage that doesn’t just cover what you’re looking to hear. Additionally, record demographic information to gain insights into the diversity of participants.

When analysing data, use manual coding and theming techniques to identify and group core themes together that are underpinned by sub-themes (e.g. your core theme could be public transport with sub-themes being some people don’t use public transport because the times aren’t suitable for them, it’s too expensive or that they’d prefer to use their car). This will enable those reading the data to understand exactly what needs to change/what the issues are.

Avoid relying solely on satisfaction and choices as core themes, as they may not provide detailed information for future actions (e.g. if people say they don’t like something, there isn’t a clear opportunity to express how things might look different or what needs to change). It is more about looking at the changes and issues people raise rather than how satisfied/unsatisfied they are about something.

Essential workshop ingredients: factors for success

Beyond the content and structure of the workshop, certain elements contribute to its overall success:

  • Refreshments: providing refreshments creates a more relaxed and welcoming environment for participants.
  • Accessible venue: choose a venue that is easily accessible to the target audience to maximise attendance.
  • Informal atmosphere: avoid an overly formal setting, which can intimidate participants. Create an atmosphere that encourages open communication and participation.
  • Clear aims and objectives: ensure that the aims and objectives of the workshop are communicated clearly to participants.
  • Engaged delivery team: the facilitators should demonstrate genuine interest and commitment to the workshop’s purpose and be prepared to take action based on the outcomes.
  • Preparation: thoroughly run through the workshop before the actual event to anticipate and address potential issues.
  • Separate facilitator and note-taker: the facilitator should focus on guiding discussions, while a separate note-taker ensures comprehensive documentation.
  • Feedback mechanism: establish a clear system for collecting and providing feedback to participants, demonstrating a commitment to continuous improvement.

Putting together a successful workshop requires careful planning, inclusivity, and attention to detail. By establishing clear objectives, managing group sizes effectively, planning varied activities, and recording valuable insights, you can create a workshop that engages participants, fosters collaboration, and achieves meaningful outcomes. Remember to consider the essential elements that contribute to a positive workshop experience, and be prepared to adapt and refine your approach based on participant feedback. With these considerations in mind, you’ll be well on your way to hosting impactful workshops that drive positive change.

This blog is based on learning from an event run as part of the Shared Learning Network for PSBs within Project Dewi. This sub-network is designed to encourage, and support, people associated with Public Services Boards in Wales to share good practice and assist with each other’s challenges. Please get in touch if you would like to be involved:

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