As facilitators (and human beings) we make all kinds of assumptions about what people want out of the workshops and processes we help them run. Some of these assumptions might be around getting results, or at least the sheer volume of results we can help a group of people generate over a day or two.

It is typical at the end of our workshops that the walls are covered
with flipcharts, completed templates, prioritised ideas, timelines, and next action sheets. We regularly put groups to work on key questions and then
after reporting seek from the group their observations about the
results  – what patterns do they see? What additional meaning can they
derive when you put all this work together? We ask for reflections and take away messages. We might capture these nuggets of insight on cards or paper,  and quickly we have mountains of data that we facilitators
assume are equally and fantastically valuable to the hosts of the event.

While these ideas and summaries look like gold to us, we might instead
encounter a programme manager who looks at the wealth of raw data and
asks at the end of the workshop, “What am I supposed to do with all this?”

Well, unless the process needs to be minuted for transparency or
accountability reasons (and sometimes this might actually be the case), I see no reason why every single post-it note or flipchart needs to be typed
up and put into a long, dry verbatim report, that potentially no one will use. Sometimes a simple photo report (like the ones I make in Penultimate – see blog post Fast and Easy Workshop Reports with Penultimate) will do as the archive of raw outputs. This can then be crystalized into a more useful and meaningful short report, with decisions and next actions concisely summarised.

We all need to remember that workshop activities can serve different purposes. Some might produce concrete written results, but some might be designed to produce softer, more intangible results, such as team development, warming up for a creative brainstorming, or helping to shift mindsets or attitudes. These latter activities might come and go with no written trace, with results only to be experienced in a more harmonious working atmosphere or a particularly innovative outcome later on.

Some discussions might be most useful for peer learning, so people might take their own notes of what is most useful to them. If the group has a central repository for group learning, this could be still be archived for on-demand learning in the future. In which case perhaps only highlights, contact /persons and places to go for more information need be captured in a searchable format (sent by email and/or uploaded on an online platform).

Sometimes the results produced are for the participants and sometimes they are just for you. For the latter, it might be most useful to let “results” pass in an ephemeral way, or with some discreet note taking on a notepad by the facilitator or project manager. Such as the answers to the following questions: How easy was it for you to contribute to this exercise? What did you enjoy about the day, what would you like to be different tomorrow? No need to capture these things on a flipchart. Unless of course you want to refer back to it again at the end of the next day to see how you did, but that seems heavy handed unless the process of the day was a train wreck (and hopefully that would NEVER be the case).

So as facilitators we might sometimes get a little carried away with
writing things down and capturing everything.

And our host organisations might get carried away too. It might be the case some times that our counterparts  think they want to know something but really they don’t have the latitude to make the changes that might arise from a highly generative exercise. Or they might be working with a different timeframe (short term vs. long term) or they might have other parameters, such as budget or human resources, that pose boundaries that need to be carefully explained to a group before it starts its work. As without careful consideration of these, the results are rendered almost useless.

So the discussion of results forms an important part of the
consultation stage of a facilitation design process. It needs to happen at the overall workshop level, but also for each session and activity. Facilitators much check their assumptions –  this conversation is a time
where the facilitator listens deeply, and asks good questions. For
example, for a session that aims to share “best practice”: Where will the good practice lessons generated go after the session? Is it for individual participants’ learning or should it be captured and archived? If the latter, then where will it be archived and in what format? Who will use this later? How will the results be fed back into the process in the future? And so on.

I think we should always be very clear what results we want from a
workshop discussion, an exercise, from group work, etc. Every session conducted should have a purpose, and the answers/outputs/results are in some way useful for the process.  Without this the whole exercise can become very expensive  busy work. Whether results are captured for long term use, or whether the discussion just helps move the group mentally from A to B, this should be crystal clear to both the facilitator and the workshop host.

Whenever you are convening people you should always want results; whether they are written down or not doesn’t always matter.

2 replies
  1. Martin Gilbraith
    Martin Gilbraith says:

    Hi Gillian, I agree completely. In the Technology of Participation we talk of Rational Aim, meaning what the group needs to know, agree or decide as a result, and Experiential Aim, meaning how the group needs to be affected experientally as a result. Both should be considered and articulated in the design of every process, and often one is primary and the other secondary.

    When I do record everything verbatim, it is often because one of the aims is that everyone really needs to know what everyone is thinking – because they just don't get to learn that otherwise, for a range of reasons. So it can be invaluable for everyone to have a record of the detail to refer back to.

    Thanks for an insightful post!

  2. Gillian Martin Mehers
    Gillian Martin Mehers says:

    Hi Martin, Thanks so much for this great comment. You mention Technology of Participation (ToP) and I wanted to provide a link to that good resource so that people can dig deeper if they want.

    Definitely some discussions are worth recording, particularly if the content is reusable for some or all. I will never give up my templates, but just need to check if me and the host are aligned as to whether the aims is Rational or Experiential!

    Thanks again for your comment!

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *