Tips on running workshops

General advice for organising and running workshops.

An interactive workshop aims to stimulate creativity through collaborative working.

An interactive workshop may be suitable for activities such as:

There are some tips to help researchers in preparing and running a workshop

Be clear on the goal or purpose of workshop

What will you and your participants get out of it. Let your participants know what the purpose is – this will help them prepare.

Choose participants carefully

Consider the purpose of the workshop when you choose participants. Aim for diversity of participants, If the participants are already chosen, try and find a bit about them – where are they from, what is there experience with the topic of the workshop, do they all already know each other.

Plan the workshop

Consider the size of the workshop.
The ideal size of a workshop is between about 8 -14 people, because you want interaction between the participants. You can scale up, but are more likely to need to break out into smaller groups and therefore may need additional space. If the group is too small individuals can dominate, so you may need to use activities that allow everyone to contribute.
Consider the time
Planning the activities in a workshop carefully is really important. Attached is a workshop planner that is useful for this purpose. If your workshop is longer than a couple of hours, vary the activities, the methods of presenting or the ways that people participate. Breaks are really important – so plan them in, but remember that they usually take longer than planned. Also, if material or approaches are new to people there may be questions of clarification. There will be workshops where different activities take longer – you will need to decide on the day whether the usefulness of letting an exercise run on is more than getting through all of the activities. It can be helpful to ask the group this question if you find yourself in that position.
Consider the activities
Interactive workshops generally have three phases: an opening phase, a creative phase and a closing phase. The exploring phase is when you are most likely to have the most interactive activities.
Breaking the ice
Whether you like or don’t like ice-breakers, it is important that everyone knows who else is in the room – so find a way for people to introduce themselves.
Balance activities
Balance different types of activities (individual, paired and group working) and different types of interaction (discussion, use of sticky notes), and try and keep slide presentations to a minimum.
It is important to schedule time for participants to discuss the outputs of each of the activities, and after the ‘creative’ phase.
Plan for different types of people
Remember that some people are more reflective or introverted, so allow participants to brainstorm ideas on sticky notes individually before sharing with the group, this can help generate ideas and ensure that everyone participates.

Consider logistics

Consider the location and venue.
Is it easy to get there, is there public transport/parking?
think about water, tea/coffee, food, dietary requirements.
Materials and equipment
don't assume that materials and equipment will be on site. Check or bring them with you – like pens, flip charts, projectors, connectors and leads.
Arrive early
Get to the venue early to arrange tables and chairs to best suit the activities you are using (e.g. tables for small groups to work around, or a U shape, for predominantly individual or paired working).

Recording and following up

Information recording
Consider how you are going to record the information that comes out of the workshop. Are there artefacts that are being created from the workshop, such as a programme plan, a systems map, or a list of research question. Is someone taking notes or writing on a white board during the workshop? Several recent workshops held at Manaaki Whenua have used a graphic artist to capture the workshop as it unfolds, and produce a great workshop artefact at the same time. Download a copy here.
Synthesising outputs
Plan when you are going to synthesise the workshop outputs with the other organisers or facilitators, and when you will follow up with the participants.
Getting feedback
Give people a chance to feedback — so either make an evaluation form, or use another event evaluation methods to capture what worked and what you could do differently

More information

Blank workshop planner template (.docx)

Ten Simple Rules for Running Interactive Workshops, PLOS Computational Biology.

Design workshops that work: how to get better at brainstorming, Inside Intercom.

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