This week we spent one-day working with the Federal Department of Environments's Design and Analytics team prepare for an upcoming 1/2day 'Hack' event they were running.  50+ participants had been invited to attend the hack and as such, breakout facilitators were being called on from within the team to help facilitate breakout teams.  The problem was that these facilitators had varying levels of facilitation experience: some with intermediate skills, otherwise had never facilitated before.

Julian and I were asked to design a customised one-day session which not only helped them prepare for, and feel more confident about, their session but also to teach some basic Design Thinking mindsets, skill sets and toolsets.

There were three key activities that we'll highlight here in terms of supporting the primary objective of helping the group prepare and feel more confident.

Event modelling

The outcome of this activity was that the group had a much stronger and more precise shared vision, understanding and plan for the session.  The activity involved unpacking the event along nearly 10 dimensions ranging from the back story, outcomes, deliverables, participants, key questions and content inputs.  Not only did the group actually develop a useable model of their entire event, but the exercise revealed key points of tension that wouldn't have been surfaced if e hadn't delved into this level of detail, as a group.  This activity was the first time during the session that we saw participants come alive and feel a level of discomfort.  

Activity simulations

The outcomes of this activity were that the group felt more confident to facilitate specific activities but also that they were much clearer on what they needed to focus on individually and as a group before their session.  The activity itself involved three cycles of the following process, i two small breakout groups, for several design thinking activities which were being used for the hack session:

1. Planning: participants were asked to plan the activity along the dimensions of purpose, content, experience, people and process.

2. Simulation: once planning had been done, we 'pressed play' and actually role played the activity as we might do in the actual session.  Some of us played the role of participants, while some took it turn to play the breakout facilitator.

3. Debrief: After the short simulation, the team debriefed on the experience and what they learned.

The closing debrief

We asked participants to reflect on the their key insights and learnings from the day and to focus these insights further using the following questions:  

"So what?" - What is the relevance, significance of your learning or insight?  What does it mean for you, the group, the event?

"Now what?" - What do you/we need to do about this next?

This simple structure really focussed the debrief and left the team with a concrete and clear set of actions to tackle next.


So from this session, then..

So what?

Firstly, design thinking is largely a misnomer.  It should really be called 'Design Doing' because that's what it's largely about.  Rather than thinking and talking too much about the problem, why not actually try something and see what happens?  So often we find that participants are scared to 'take the pen' but that once they do, their understanding of the problem and potential solution pathways becomes so much clearer.

Secondly, a little bit of fear, discomfort and struggle is good for participants!  It is in these moments that the true character of individuals and a group is revealed.  And when they feel a bit lost but are then provided with time, space, content and process to find their way, the result is always more satisfying for them.  Charles Collingwood-Boots from wheretofromhere? always says that 'facilitation isn't about "making easier" but rather it's about "making smooth".  I like this.  I've learned that there's nothing wrong with participants feeling uncomfortable within your session - as long as they are safe and not in this zone for too long. 

Now what?

When you're designing or building something in a workshop, get into the detail and make things as real as possible.  Build, make, prototype, simulate!  Everything tends to look glossy and everyone tends to agree at 30,000ft and it's not until you get closer to the ground that you see the hazards.

How can you design your session such that participants will feel challenged and some discomfort? Did you identify any 'fault lines' in the group or the topic which need to be explored?And then how might you help them design their way out of this situation?