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Designing Collaborative Workshops


Preparation is the key to a good workshop, and it also helps you to be more confident. An agenda, or workshop plan, is a good way to make sure you're adequately prepared, and that you are being sensible about what you can cover in the time you have. It's always tempting to try to cram in too much, so be realistic about how much time you gives to activities, and be brutal about taking stuff out!

First of all work out your aims for the workshop - you may find it helps to write them out at the top of the agenda when you're working on it. Come back to these as you plan each activity. Does what you are planning to do help you achieve your workshop aims, or help the group relax and get to know each other? If not, you probably don't need the activity.

From http://www.seedsforchange.org.uk/shortfacilitatingworkshops#prep.

Practical exercises

If your workshop is about producing practical outputs (like how to do a news release or code an HTML page) then make sure to add enough time for people to try out their new skills. This helps build people's confidence and means they're more likely to remember what they've learned, especially if they get the chance to try things out several times, not just the once.


When designing a workshop it's easy to forget the breaks - there always seems to be more to fit in than time will allow! But we're all human, both facilitators and participants, and when we're tired we don't function too well - and that includes understanding and remembering what the workshop is about.

If your workshop is two hours or less it's usually enough to make sure there is a possibility to get tea or coffee (or a trip to the pub) at the end. But if your workshop is longer than two hours then it's a good idea to schedule in a break every two to three hours, with an energiser in between.

Preparation Checklist

  • Have you included a good balance of different types of activities?
  • Have you made time for practical sessions, breaks and energisers?
  • Have you thought through what you're going to say and how you're going to do things?
  • Are all the practicalities like venue, seating, refreshments etc sorted?
  • Do you have all the materials you need?
  • Have you checked whether anyone has particular needs, and how you can cater for those?

Examples of pre-workshop prep

Example 1: Pre-event interviews by Aspiration Tech / CC BY-SA

Whenever possible, it is advisable to engage participants 1-on-1 before events, and ask them about what they want to get out of the event.

Personal questions

  • Briefly describe your work, and your interest in the event.
  • What do you personally want to get out of the event?
  • What will make you feel like your time at the event been well spent?

Ask them to help shape the Agenda

  • What are the most important things for this group to discuss in our time together?
  • What topics do you want to make sure are addressed in the agenda?
  • Are there any relevant topics on which you'd like to share your experiences?
  • What topics or issues do you think participants are most likely to disagree on, or desire to debate?

More pre-engagement questions.

Example 2: How to make an audio report workshop at Hebden Bridge Alternative Technology Centre (Mick Fuzz)

It can be really fun to work with audio recordings to make a real or spoof news report. I offered to run this workshop as part of a series on using Free Software.

Prepare and test your equipment. Just because the software is on the machine doesn't mean it will do what you want it to. A test showed that out of the 5 computers only 3 could record a 'line in' signal. So we brought 2 laptops to fill the gap.

Task: Make a list and check it twice

For the examples above, ask yourself:

  1. Do you think this is a good fit for the workshop you are designing?
  2. If no, why not? If yes, how will your incorporate this activity into your workshop?
Add your responses below, along with a list of things you need to prepare for your workshop.


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