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Designing Collaborative Workshops

Documenting your Workshop

This chapter contains some examples of documentation. 

Example 1: Seeds for Change

Writing up contributions

Even if you don't use blackboard and chalk, you may feel like a school teacher when you write up participants' contributions. However, it is a very simple and useful way of helping people concentrate and remember so it is worth doing and getting it right.

Practical Points

There's no point using visual aids if people can't see them, or can't hear you talking. So, talk to the group, not to the paper! It's better to pause whilst you write than lose what you're saying in the process of writing. You could also ask your co-facilitator or one of the group to write for you. Ask if everyone can see the writing. If not, either move the flipchart or ask participants to move. Your flips will also be easier to read if you write neatly in lower case letters and make sure you write big enough.

Writing up the groups' contributions

When writing up comments use your active listening skills to accurately summarise and restate the comments made. Make sure you check with the person who made the comment, as you may have misunderstood. Don't show any favouritism - value all contributions equally and write down all comments. If there's a reason why you're not writing something down (because it's already on the paper, for example, or it's incorrect) explain it to the group.

Helping people remember

Use headings: they help us build mental associations, so we can remember and 'file' our learning appropriately. Instead of linear lists, you could use spider diagrams or mind maps - they can be easier to remember, and make it easier to cluster different contributions. Using colour and pictures also helps people focus and remember. If colour contrast is important then be aware of colour blindness - ask the group if any particular combinations are a problem, or, if preparing in advance, avoid putting green and red together because this is the combination which most often causes difficulties.

ABC of Note/minute Taking

Good notes or minutes are:

Accurate. Record proposals and final decisions word for word and read them back to ensure accuracy. Separate fact from opinion. Facts are objective and indisputable; opinions are personal views.

Agreed. Avoid misrepresenting anyone's contribution by asking everyone to agree the minutes. If the minutes are going further afield than those present at the meeting, get agreement before circulating them.

Accessible. Use accessible language: avoid jargon, in jokes and personal shorthand. Is email OK for everyone? If not use post and phone as well. Will everyone be able to open an electronic document in the format you usually use? Do you need large print copies for visually impaired participants?

Allocated. Make sure action points have a who and a by when element to them. If they lack either you may need to approach people and clarify the action point. If someone was volunteered to do a task in their absence, check with them before they read it in the minutes! If they can't do it, find someone who can.

Brief but informative.

Clear. Write the minutes so that someone who wasn't at the meeting would be able to understand them. That way they'll be clear and comprehensible.

Complete. Ensure any documents mentioned are either attached or referenced, so people can find them (e.g. provide links to a website).

Circulated. The job doesn't stop with typing them up!


Writing up Contributions & ABC of note taking & Giving Feedback - http://www.seedsforchange.org.uk/facilitatingworkshops#skills

Example 2: Online collaboration tools at events and using wikis by Aspiration Tech / CC BY-SA

There can be substantial benefit in using collaborative tools to enhance and document proceedings during events; so much of what is said can be relevant to people who could not attend the event, as well as to participants who want to track sessions in which they did not participate. One of the stated goals of Aspiration events is to develop highly reusable methods for running self-documenting events. Too often, technical events in the nonprofit sector are conceived in a “start from scratch” fashion and subsequent proceedings and outcomes are not documented. Aspiration events – and these facilitation materials – exist in part to fix this. If you develop or extend approaches to self documentation described here, please take the time to share the process you used with others.

The use of online tools at events is predicated on two assumptions which must not be taken for granted:

  1. The presence of ubiquitous and robust wireless network access, as well as hardwired ethernet access. If there are limited connections to the network and thus to the online venues, the use of online tools is not as advisable.
  2. The ability of all participants to have access to devices for viewing and contributing to the online venues. If only a minority of participants have the capacity to access such resources, a de facto and counter-productive “digital divide” is manifested. While not everyone has a computer they can bring to the event, encourage participants who can to bring laptop computers if online tools will be used in the proceedings. In addition, make sure there are adequate numbers of “public” computers for those without laptops, as well as adequate power outlets for laptop users.

While online collaboration tools can greatly enhance the outcomes of events, they can also serve as a major distraction. Establish specific guidelines for when it is appropriate to be using computers and online, and in particular discourage everyone but note-takers from using laptops during sessions.

Using wikis to document the event

Wikis are free-form web sites which allow collective editing of page content by all users. For a complete introduction to wikis, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiki.

Wikis are superb for logging notes from sessions, allowing participants to introduce themselves, ask questions and share resources, and generally recording the proceedings of the day as well as subsequent outcomes.

The process which has been followed to date at Aspiration events is based on the following policies:

  • “Everything” goes on the wiki. Organizers should populate the initial wiki with an agenda skeleton and some pre-fab pages for participants to populate; see the associated wiki page templates provided with this guide for more detail

It is recommended the wiki used at most events be a “clean” wiki with minimal pre-existing content. This creates both a blank slate to capture the energy and creativity of the proceedings, and avoids any constraints imposed by existing structure and terms. It also provides a 'safe space' where people don't feel they are putting themselves on the line to an audience larger than those participating in the event. That said, existing wikis are an excellent resource; one way to mitigate concerns about their inclusion is to link to them prominently from the event wiki home page.

Several things are essential to acknowledge and factor in to the use of wikis:

  • First, wikis are not the most user-friendly web tool; the syntax for editing wiki pages is usually rather arcane and varies from wiki to wiki, and even when editing toolbars are provided, they often offer limited support.
  • In addition, many participants are not familiar with wikis, their use, and the conventions associated with editing pages.
  • Finally, using and contributing to wikis is not an intuitive “next task”, especially for those immersed in stimulating dialog and busy making new friends.

Event and session facilitators must be diligent in reminding and encouraging participants to contribute, and in particular frequently reiterate the message “if you are confused or hesitant about using the wiki, many are glad to help and you only need to ask”. This can be done in conjunction with asking those who feel able to help to raise their hands for easy identification; such pairings of participants offer additional opportunities for collaboration, shared learning and collective output.

Another particular subtlety involves anonymous access to wikis; some wikis require login before pages can be edited. It is strongly recommended that anonymous access be the norm during events, as that presents one less barrier to participation, and the distraction of administrating passwords is hard to justify. The larger the event and the more public the wiki access, the more likely it is that logins become advisable as a requirement for editing content.

We are still relatively new to incorporating wikis into events, and encourage those using this guide in conjunction with wiki-enabled events to innovate, experiment and share their learnings and observations.

A collection of sample wiki page templates is provided as a separate document.

Task: How will you document your event?

Post your documentation plans below.


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