Taking participants on a self-driven journey

17 December 2019

Taking participants on a self-driven journey

Engagement design for a reconvened audience

We’ve recently run a few engagement projects with reconvened audiences (participants who come to more than one workshop). In our public dialogue for the UK Government about futures with self-driving vehicles we had over 150 participants each returning for three workshops.

Here’s a spotlight on our biggest lessons for engagement design for reconvened audiences:

  1.  Keep it interesting
  2. Create an enabling atmosphere, and
  3. Make the most of the unique data opportunity!

Keep it interesting

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In addition to lessening the ‘burden’ of workshops, having them on different days, at different times, and of different lengths also means people are less likely to get bored of the format. This time we mixed it up with a short welcoming weekday-evening, a full-day Saturday, and a Saturday afternoon.

Use a good variety of activities, both in each day and across all the workshops. Use mixed media, explore lots of different aspects of a topic, and do it in different ways – don’t just spend several sessions with general table discussions or having people write on post-it notes.

Design your events to bring in new people! Have a graphic recorder join some sessions, have topic experts participate and have different ones come to different events with the same group.

While bringing people back for multiple workshops on a topic, it does present a risk of repetition, especially when you want to reflect or build on previous discussions. If there is a chance your participants could view your activities as being repetitive, be clear with them about what you want out of an activity and show how it differs from that which has been discussed before.

If you feel the energy dropping in the room or group dynamics restricting participation, mix up your groups! You can have participants mix between groups, change their seats within their group, or a combination of both – where facilitators ensure that participants don’t sit with their previous group mates at a new table.

It all helps to keep it fresh and stimulate new discussions or realisations!

 

Create an enabling atmosphere

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People develop expectations and get comfortable based on the types of activities you do early on. So, if there’s even a small chance you’ll want participants  to speak or present in plenary in the last workshop, make sure you build in plenary contributions in the earlier workshops.

One of the big debates we kept coming back to on the self-driving vehicles dialogue, was whether to mix groups between activities or events, or to keep the groups the same. Keeping participants in the same groups may build confidence among participants who may have otherwise not contributed to group discussion and enables deeper discussion of the issues to develop over the course of the engagement.

But, mixing groups may help encourage fresh perspectives, prevent data being skewed as a result of dominating discussions, and also mitigate against group-think. If keeping the groups the same across workshops, consider ways to enable sharing between groups. For example, you might have people reflect on a previous workshop by chatting to someone from a different group; you might mix up groups for just one session, and then revert back to the original groups, or you might send “ambassadors” to other groups to share feedback from a session.

If your groups are going to remain similar, bear in mind the increasing importance of conflict-management and the role of the facilitator in managing group dynamics. It’s one thing if you have a half-day workshop where two people don’t get on, it’s quite different when you know they have to work together on several occassions.

I’ve experienced a group where a pair of participants with firm opposing views sat at opposite ends of the table, and what ensued was a comical Wimbledon-esque spectator sport – two people in a ‘tennis match’ with the remainder of the group bobbing their heads, watching the ‘ball’ go back-and-forth. Shuffling everyone’s seats at the table after tea, with the competitors seated at right angles to each other was most effective – you’re less likely to argue with someone when you aren’t looking directly at them.

In a recent engagement project on a gas distribution network business plan, we had workshops with returning participants as well as new participants in mixed groups. The most valuable lesson from this experience was the important of creating space for new people near the start of the workshop to help them find their voice. Groups with a mix of returning and new participants were great, renewing energy and bringing different perspectives, but this was significantly improved by new participants having an opportunity to explore their views away from returning, more experienced participants early on in the process.

What could it do for your data?

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Working with the same people for more than one workshop presents some interesting opportunities for your data and the possible scope of insight. But don’t get carried away and think about it carefully long before your events – you don’t want to make your data analysis impossible, and you also can’t travel back in time if you missed something!

Reflect on your research questions.

  • Will “before-during-after” data really help answer them? If so, it would be best if that data is attributable, so you can track individual changes as opposed to averages. If not, it’s a lot of work for little gain.
  • Is there anything that would be really helpful, but hard to collect during a workshop (like how many times someone heard about the topic on social media in a week)? Reconvening people means they can do some data collection between workshops…but keep your homework tasks small and achievable, and making the data easy to capture and submit.

And for the best journey don’t forget the ‘little things’! If someone’s name was spelt wrong at the first workshop, fix the spelling for the remaining events – even if it’s just one person in 150 – or you’ll hear about it at every event.

 

Let’s help each other do better for our participants – tell us about your experiences and top tips!

 

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