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Make a Game Out of Any Workshop Topic (The drier the topic the better!)

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Dry topic? Make a GAME: Take topic, identify behaviour desired, make game to practice (team it, test it, time it), add drama, give prizes!

Imagine you have what might otherwise be a dry topic, like sharing a complicated membership application process (not that some people won’t find this exhilarating, of course). As exciting as that topic might seem to those people, you cannot imagine being able to keep a workshop room of 30 people’s undivided attention long enough to go through all the 18 steps (no joke), including the many subtleties and elaborate intricacies of the process, as told by one of the experts.

You still need to transfer the skills and knowledge – why not make a game of it?

You might go about it like this:

1. Pin down a goal: What do you want to be different? For example, regionalising a complicated membership application process so that everyone can conduct it, and not only a handful of HQ people.

2. Identify desired behaviours involved: What do people have to do to achieve this goal? For example, A) following the steps of the application process in the right order (order in this case is important because you need to have the right information to meet different external deadlines imposed by a larger governance and funding process), AND B) be able to make judgements on the quality and completeness of application information submitted at different steps. Here we have two very specific actions – perhaps two different games? (We made two games to keep elegantly simple what could otherwise have been too fiddly.)

3. Develop game materials: What are your physical manifestations of the game? For example, can the steps of the process be put on paper and then separated like a puzzle (without the step numbers of course), to be put back together? Can the questions be put in the form of a quiz worksheet?

4. Design the game mechanics: How do people play – in teams or individually? Are there specific roles? What are the steps of the process? What is moving around – are they building something, answering something, putting something in sequence?

5. Set the rules: What are the rules – what you can and cannot do? What do people have to do to “win”? (Be very consistent with the rules if you give them, otherwise some people get very frustrated if shift happens. Make very few and stick to them.)

6. Time it: How long is a round? How long is the game? (Make sure to keep to the time and don’t go soft on it unless specifically contracting an extension or change with the group, or else the boundaries of the game start to blur.)

7. Record it: How do people record their progress? (back to that quiz sheet) How do they know when they have won? Is there a place to record scores? (what about a big team scoreboard like in baseball?)

8. Test it: Who is the authority who will announce the winner? If appropriate, do you have on hand the “suggested answers” and someone who can explain them?

9. Add drama and surprise: Where can you add some of the fun that goes with games? Mysterious prizes – like a Skip-a-Session-To-Go-Shopping Card? (even better than Get-Out-of-Jail-Free!) Running light commentary like at an auction or football game? New unusual seating arrangement or new room? New teams with different team names? A “judge” as a role play? A bell or whistle to signal round changes?

10. Celebrate it: What is the prize for winning? Chocolates to share? Longer coffee break? First in line in the lunch buffet? The glory of being first (Note: Personally, I get a lot better engagement with more desirable prizes – excuse a pertinent yet non-work example: I cannot get my kids excited to compete in the Getting Dressed in the Morning Game if they know the prize is a Big Kiss from Your Mother.) Also, if you have two games, give different prizes.

11. Debrief it: How can you help the teams make the points? What questions can you ask for people to notice their learning or question aspects of the practice?

It’s certainly not as easy as it sounds to make a good game that people will have fun playing and also have it be a successful learning intervention. One of the most important steps is of course:

12. Practice it: Make sure you know how to brief and debrief it, know and have tested the rules, and have all the measurements of success and prizes ready to go.

Then change the name of your workshop session from: Introduction to Regionalising the Membership Application Process to GAMES DAY! (and at the end of the session, instead of “Good Work” you can delightfully say “Thanks for Playing!”)

4 replies
  1. Stuart Reid
    Stuart Reid says:

    Really nice, thorough post Gillian, thanks. Playfulness is something I try to bring to my work, so I'll look for a chance to try this out.


  2. Gillian Martin Mehers
    Gillian Martin Mehers says:

    Hi Stuart, Yes, me too – and it is always a fine line between serious play (as Thiagi calls it) and OTT. This sequence I did on the third day (the first day was very formal and rather traditional), but by Day 3, people were tired and getting saturated and really appreciated this change in delivery method. They also had the afternoon off, so that helped boost the feeling of "free-spiritedness."

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