This article was originally written as guidance for workshop organisers during an open space meeting in October 2016.
This is a place where civil rights activists meet to discuss change. During our three days together, we have plenty of space for spontaneous sessions as well as for pre-organised ones. What happens in your session is up to you: a workshop, a lecture, networking, practical action… Here are a few ideas how you can make sure your session results in practical outcomes, and is not just a nice conversation.
Start with purpose
Once your session starts, briefly share why you have invited to this session. What is your connection to the topic? What are you looking to get out of the conversation?
Possible outcomes can span a wide range:
Gather information from activists around Europe to build a full picture of the issue;
Find out who else is working on this issue and how;
Inspire others to take on the issue in their campaigning;
Develop shared messages and framing for campaigns across Europe;
Agree on collaboration and next steps.
Check in together
In most likelihood, activists from very different backgrounds have shown up to your session – some of them you’ll already know, others are new. It’s good practice to do a brief round of introductions: you’ll want to hear everyone’s names, and why they have chosen to join this session.
Build your agenda
The round of introductions will show you whether most people have come with a similar intention to yours or whether there are additional questions in the room. You’ll also get a good sense of the level of knowledge: Are there multiple experts that can contribute information, or do you need to bring everyone up to speed? Use this information to build a rough outline of what you want to cover in your session, and how much time you’ll want to spend on each part.
A good general outline is usually:
Facts and figures. Start by collecting or presenting data about the issue: What happened when? Which documents are relevant? Who are the important actors? What do we know for sure?
Assessment. Now reflect on the relevance of the issue: What are the possible consequences? Why does this issue matter? How does it link to other issues – or the big picture?
Responses. Then collect what you know about the civil society response: Who is working on this issue? What has already happened? What resources are available? What do we know about future plans?
Next steps. Close by talking about how you want to take this issue forward: Who wants to be involved? How do we want to collaborate? What agreements or next steps do we want to commit to?
Depending on your topic, you can adjust the time you are spending on each section. If you know that you tend to get lost in detail, it might be worthwhile to find a person in your group that keeps track of time and reminds you to come back to the agenda if necessary.
Writing things down is the single most effective tool to ensure that a conversation will result in action afterwards. Note taking works best if all participants can see the results as they are written down – a flipchart works better than a computer screen. If you don’t want to take notes yourself, find a person in your group to do so.
At one point, the next sessions will start and it is time to bring our conversation to an end. If at all possible, give yourself five minutes before the end of your session to review and close. Ask your note taker to summarise the results and key points. Then do a quick round to give everyone a chance to briefly reflect and add their key take-aways, if they want. Finally, you might want to add your own thoughts and especially comment on what you will do with the results of the meeting: What are you contributing to making things happen?
Ask for help
Good workshops are always a result of the interaction of content, process and people. If you want help with the facilitation of your workshop – to make sure that the conversation stays on track and moves towards its objective in the time available – ask. Many people are willing to help.