The Workshop experience - how is it different?

Brain-Pool Workshops are not loose brainstorms, but structured, creative, and focused on delivery. We mix presentations, discussion, individual work and group exercises. A distinctive element is the use of laptops - equipped with special software and linked by a wireless network - to input and read contributions. No special skills are required.

 

The value of our Workshops comes not just from facilitation on the day, but also from preparation, analysis and reporting. Well in advance, we take time with the sponsor to design the event to achieve its goals, ensuring that objectives are clear and attendees are well-selected and briefed. We often ask participants to do some work before the Workshop (e.g. to comment on drivers and outcomes).

The Workshop starts by establishing the objectives, explaining key concepts, the agenda, and the exercises and tools to be used. Everyone is provided with mini-laptops, linked by a wireless network, to collect their contributions in each of several specific exercises. We have used the laptops successfully with technical experts and members of the public alike, including people who have never used computers before.


Workshop participants can work individually, or in pairs or groups. The system allows easy syndication without the need for break-out rooms, thereby minimising disruption. For example we can split a list of 40 research ideas into four sets and allocate each set to one table for discussion and then comment via the mini-laptops. Then we can switch the allocation, so that each table considers another set of ideas.


During an exercise, participants enter their own contributions (e.g. 'My research priorities'). Others then read and review these. Comments, builds or questions are used to refine contributions (e.g. from a list of 100 one-line priorities, to develop 30 substantial proposals). Participants can respond through the laptops to points made by others - the interactive discussions can be very productive! All this is done anonymously. Our analysts comment on contributions, provide distilled feedback to participants, and prompt the facilitator.

 

Distilled outputs are often assessed in the Workshop by the participants against diverse criteria (e.g. 'attractiveness', 'feasibility', 'distinctiveness', and 'sustainable benefits'). Assessments are conducted via the laptops, and we present the outputs in graphical form. This feedback stimulates further discussion about promising ideas, and involves everyone in shaping the outcome. All the initial contributions, refined ideas, comments, and assessment results, are retained for subsequent reflection and analysis.

All Brain-Pool Workshops are supported by carefully selected, high-quality materials:

  • Pre-Workshop briefings and exercises as necessary.
  • Presentations, Workbooks and templates for brain-storming and refining contributions on the day.
  • Verbatim outputs can be provided immediately. We usually provide a spell-checked, properly collated and indexed report, for distribution to the participants, within a few days.
  • Our Synthesis report is normally available within 1-3 weeks. This faithfully extracts and distils the essence of the verbatim contributions, and adds further insights and independent recommendations. It provides a sound basis for the sponsors to determine their 'next steps'.

How do we analyse Workshop outputs?

Our analysis is systematic and meticulous. It is based on our research on the Workshop context, subject-matter and objectives. It is done impartially and independently. Through an iterative process we:

  • Review all the raw contributions, carefully identifying connections between different contributions.
  • Sort the contributions into suitable themes. We reflect and take account of the pattern of themes and questions used in the Workshop but avoid being bound rigidly by these. If our analysis of the outputs suggests alternative or different themes, we will reflect this in the structure of our report.
  • Formulate synthesised statements (e.g. issues, solutions, strategies) from numerous individual contributions. This reduces the sheer volume of material. We do not crudely merge and dilute ideas to produce bland statements, but instead retain the essence of discrete ideas. We look actively for novel or creative ideas which challenge or disrupt current thinking.
  • Identify and interpret patterns of contributions (e.g. any material differences in views between different categories of participant or between Workshops run in different regions).

Our Synthesis Report usually produces a five-fold reduction in the substantive content of the Verbatim Report. The distilled outputs provide a powerful 'evidence base'. The Synthesis Report also includes a concise introduction, describing the Workshop's objectives and process. This makes it accessible and useful for people who did not attend. We normally include independent recommendations, drawing on our wider experience. The Report is a powerful tool for decision-making and securing lasting value from the Workhshop.


Our clients normally formally adopt our Synthesis Report and communicate it to a pre-determined target audience of Workshop participants and selected decision-makers and stakeholders. They accompany this with an internal cover note that endorses the report, affirms its importance and specifies action steps. References to other relevant programmes and initiatives position the Workshop in its wider context.

 

The Synthesis Report is provided in Adobe PDF format. Key elements can also be made available as a PowerPoint presentation to facilitate punchy delivery and integrate the outputs with other slides as necessary. This expands the options to support communication and decision-making after the Workshop.

What do participants like about Brain-Pool Workshops?

Typical comments recorded by participants when asked 'what did you like?' about our Workshops include:

  • ‘The use of the technology versus old flip-charts approach.’
  • ‘On-line commenting and communication - much more efficient than open dialogue.’
  • ‘Good progress on getting buy-in - technology cut out a lot of wasted time.’
  • ‘The technology definitely energised the opinion-gathering stages, speeded them up and ensured contributions from everyone. I particularly like the fact that you can see all other contributions live as they come in and also that you can add comments - even a chain of comments and responses.’
  • ‘We captured all the responses and this data can be worked on and used to build up a good picture to use after the Workshop.’
  • ‘Technology gathers data very efficiently and actually offers opportunities for priority setting in groups and complex choice manipulation.’
  • ‘A good way of getting a diverse range of opinions.’
  • ‘Encouraged individual contributions without individuals and their views dominating.’
  • ‘Allowed efficient use of time to capture all inputs and allow participants to bounce ideas.’
  • ‘The opportunity to contribute comments collectively, quickly, non-attributably.’
  • ‘The technology brought a new life to the workshop concept. Capturing people’s views anonymously undoubtedly releases creativity.’
  • ‘It avoided everyone getting bogged down in a few small areas by allowing people to discuss and then all put in their own views’
  • ‘Clear and concise - with feedback available on the day - well done!’
  • ‘Took me away from the trees to see the forest…great experience...will remember.’
  • ‘New experience in collaborative thinking and interchange, the technology innovation mirrors the overall innovation theme’
  • ‘Clear and concise - with feedback available on the day - well done!’