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What We've Found

Workshops are a great opportunity to bring together a diverse audience and have them generate ideas, share and gather information and get work done. The mixture of large-group presentations and small-group interactive sessions allows for greater participation and encourages open dialogues.

Workshops need strong facilitation to ensure there is good communication and active listening among attendees so that a consensus can be reached.

Just the Facts
Workshops can last a few hours or extend over several days. The number of participants can range from a dozen to the hundreds. It all depends upon the area, the available resources, the purpose for the workshop and people’s invested interests.

During a workshop, real work gets accomplished. For instance, an issues and goal-setting workshop might have as its purpose to develop a workable strategy for the project that incorporates the views of community members, businesses, and government officials. The workshop would begin with instruction or training about what is going to be accomplished and how. The attendees are given background information, and what the impetus is for hosting the workshop and then they will get to work. Their work might be to review a report and decide upon recommendations or brainstorm ideas for actions.

When running workshops, keep in mind:
  • There must be a clear purpose, with clear tasks that will accomplish that purpose.
  • Participants will need coaching on how information will be generated and recorded.
  • Breakout groups should be no larger than 15 and every group needs a facilitator.
  • Everyone needs to listen to and respect other’s perspectives and opinions.

How To Do It

1. Form a small planning group
Bring together key players to start planning a workshop. Brainstorm topics, formats, and schedule. Also discuss learning objects, desired outcomes, and follow-up. Then define the purpose and create an agenda. This group may be comprised of members from an organization that will be hosting the event and those who will help facilitate.

2. Do Logistics
  • Select a date and time that is going to be convenient (i.e., evenings or weekends, not on a holiday).
  • Find a place that is large enough for the expected crowd including separate areas for breakout groups. Possibilities include community centers, places or worship, conference centers and hotels. A place with low or no cost is usually desirable.
  • Identify key individuals and organizations to invite and decide how to invite them (e.g., phone, mailed invitation, speaking at their groups’ meetings, etc.). Then make invitations with as much notice as possible supplying details such as when, length of meeting, where it will be held (including directions) and a brief statement of the purpose.
  • Contact and confirm attendance of special speakers such as resource experts, elected officials, and government agencies.
  • Identify and ask facilitators. Make contingency plans for having the largest group possible and estimate the number of small groups and thus the number of facilitators.
  • Prepare any visual aids that will help discussions such as a slide show or an enlarged map of the area being discussed.
  • Arrange for refreshments and food, if it will be served. This is a good area to get others involved in.
  • Obtain supplies needed for information gathering and reporting such as easels, flip charts, pens, colored dots, sticky pads, tape, audiovisual equipment, etc.
  • Write out any guidelines or expectations for behavior; e.g., not interrupting others, not offering judgment, etc. This list should be posted in the meeting room.
  • Make copies of the agenda or post a large copy that everyone in the room will be able to see.
3. Run the Workshop
While the actual format can vary, following the suggested agenda:
  • Information Presentation to large group (30-60 minutes) to ensure workshop participants have a working knowledge of important information about the project area such as important resources, current issues or threats, opportunities, and impediments.
  • Information Sharing through Community Dialogue (1-2 hours minimum) to gather information about issues, opportunities and needs for a project. This is done in small groups with a facilitator and recorder for each group. Notes are taken on flip charts and then posted on the wall for all to see. This session culminates with a representative from each small group reviewing their thoughts and feelings for all of the attendees.
  • Community Action (2 hours minimum). This is when participants will generate and agree on practical, tangible steps that are needed for the project. This is often referred to as a Project Action Plan. The large group is again broken out into small groups with a facilitator and recorder. The small groups brainstorm then prioritize their lists of actions. Each small group shares with the large group, and the large group comes to a consensus about the overall priorities.
  • Meeting Summary (15-30 minutes) for the large group. The day’s leading facilitator presents a final summary of the findings, offers any appropriate observations about the process and the experience, explains how the information will be used and what happens next. Finally, recognize the small group facilitators and thank all of the participants for their time, energy and brainpower.

4. Follow Up
The planning group should determine how results from the workshop are going to be handled. Will they be published in a brochure or book? Will they be submitted to a local newspaper? Will they be reviewed at another meeting? In addition, facilitators should be thanked in writing, as should anyone who volunteered or donated items (like food).


A combination of presentations and interactive sessions that bring people together to work towards a consensus on an issue or topic.

Use It If...
  • You want to build consensus. Through a workshop, people can express specific viewpoints, debate issues and come to agreement on a course of action.
  • You want to reach a lot of people and involve them in defining priorities.
  • You have a group that is trying to get started and is looking for direction and support from the community—and have fun while doing it.
Forget It If...
  • You don’t have a diverse group to attend. You don’t want everyone to belong to the same conservation group or the same residents association. The outcomes will be one-sided.
  • You already have the final answers. Your work will lose credibility if you seek opinions and then ignore them; the workshop will lose credibility if you try to control the outcome.
  • You are trying to reach a specific group or underrepresented group. This type of public forum may be too intimidating for some to express their true thoughts. Consider a focus group instead.
Timing is Everything

Use Workshops when real work needs to get done.
  • In the beginning of a project, discover the issues and develop a consensus on future visions.
  • In the middle of a project, use workshops to disseminate information about results of surveys or study findings to decide upon next steps or determine priorities.

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