Exploring Draft Zero: What I Look for in Your Facilitation Agendas

Sometimes I develop the first draft of a facilitation agenda for a partner’s workshop from scratch after a consultation, and sometimes I am sent the first draft to explore and work with further.

When the second scenario is the case, as it has been for the last few workshops I have done this month, I noticed that there are a number of things – details and what might seem like very small things –  that I consistently look for (and often find may benefit from tweaking).

I just looked through the last five Zero Drafts of agendas that have come to me and here are the top 3 areas where I rather consistently noticed things and suggested alternative pathways…

1) Timing: This is one of the first things I check when I receive an agenda and tends to be a place where more questions need to be asked, such as:

  • Is the timing realistic? 
  • Is there enough time/too much for presentations and discussions and activities?  Are the presentations way too long and discussions way too short? Is there enough time to add up the results of a vote or cluster the cards you collect so people are not just sitting and watching you do something?
  • Is there any discussion or reflection time built in at all? 
  • Is the incremental timing put in and does it add up? E.g. Within a session block is there detailed timing for the introduction to the session, presentation(s), Q&A/discussion, briefing of an activity, activity and presentation back? Or is it all lumped into “1 hour”? What about the time it takes to load last minute presentations, or for speakers to walk to the front of the room and get settled? Or for people to convene into smaller groups?
  • Is the placement of the breaks and lunch appropriate in the agenda? Are the gaps between them too long or short? Are the breaks realistic considering where they are geographically in the venue and how long it takes for people to get to them? Buffet versus sit-d own lunch?
2) Questions and Language: The second thing I look at are the questions that launch activities and discussions and I ask myself: 
  • Are they appropriate, understandable and crisp? (We don’t want our participants saying “What?” after we read the question to them)
  • Do the questions get us the information we need to know for our expected outcomes of each session?
  • If they are intended to promote discussion, are they interesting, open questions?
  • Does the language used to frame the questions take participants in the right direction? (I am a fan of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and tend to redraft questions into this format – here’s an example of where I did an AI “Makeover” on an activity to take it from STUPID to SMART)
  • Are the questions answerable? Can I answer them myself? If people want an example, do I have one?
  • Is the timing sufficient/too much for answering the question?
3) Variety and Placement of Activities: The next thing I do is zoom back up and look at the overall flow of the workshop and its various activities. I look for the following:
  • Is there a logical build of the session – e.g. does it have the Welcome, Introductions, Context Setting, Peer Exchange, Work/Task, Application, Reflection, Closing, in the right order,whatever that might be for his event? 
  • Is the flow incremental enough to give everyone the same starting place and bring everyone along?
  • Has any one facilitation technique been overused? Are participants spending all of their time with post-it notes, or presentation followed by Q&A?
  • Is there variety in media used – PPT, video, storytelling, Pecha Kucha, Ignite, Prezi?
  • Does the activity match the output needed? For example, if we need reflections and agreement from the whole group on an idea, does the activity allow everyone to comment and make the idea more robust? (or does the Zero Draft only include a short plenary discussion where the bravest and loudest 10 participants will take the floor and the other 50 will stay silent – at the end of that you can’t say that the whole group agrees!) 
  • Are there sufficient “capture tools” – that is, are there flipchart templates to support group work, listening cards to capture questions when presentations are numerous or long, individual worksheets to record ideas where plenary time is not sufficient for some reason? 
  • Does the activity sequence use the whole room or vary where the participants are positioned if possible? Can there be variety in facing the front, working in small groups in the corners, leaving the room all together for a Pairs Walk?
After these big ones, there are a number of other things I check out when I am working from a partner’s Zero Draft for a workshop, especially when I will be doing the delivery myself (and even if not, they should be clarified for any facilitator who will stand up and make the workshop run smoothly):
  • Is the language used consistent – when referring to documents or results (Action plans, timelines, etc.)?
  • Are there session numbers and are they sequential (I always assign session numbers as it makes signposting for participants easier and the planning discussions with partners more accurate)
  • Do I understand all the acronyms? (often not the case, and even google will give you 25 different versions of them)
  • Is it clear who is doing what? Are the names of the people responsible for different parts put in – I always add a separate column to my Facilitation Agendas to document who is speaking, or facilitating or chairing at any given moment.
  • Do the names of the speakers/contributors have titles and organizations? I will need that to introduce them.
This exploration process can take a couple of hours to really work through an agenda in great detail and ask these questions, and if need be to make some suggestions on what to add or what to change on the Zero Draft. 
Sometimes these kinds of questions can take partners by surprise as it is normally not the level of detail that they are focusing on when they put together their initial agenda. Facilitators, be gentle. For many, groups processes are a jungle and a trip into the unknown. After all, that’s why they came to seek advice from a facilitator in the first place!
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