Lately, I overheard the following story in the train. A team was supposed to meet for a two-days retreat. Two days before the retreat no agenda was mailed out; only the venue and time frame were communicated. The retreat was prepared by the head of the team together with her assistant. The person in the train was rather upset and wondering about the meaning of collaboration and the use of having this retreat.

Invitation is a VERB:
If you are inviting people to a gathering using a single static email or a poster, you aren’t doing enough, in my experience. Invitation requires you to be active, in relation and dialogue.
Chris Corrigan

The organizing team develops the invitation…

Preparing a workshop needs time and a team. Or in the spirit of the above quote of Chris Corrigan we could also say that invitation is a practice and not an email. Preparing a workshop is a collaborative effort. I never prepare a workshop alone; I am always part of an organising or hosting team. That might sound obvious but the above story shows that it is worthwhile to remember. The big work is done BEFORE any participant (or in the above story the team members) enters the workshop room.

One of the first tasks of the organizing team is to clarify the intention (why are we calling for this workshop?), the guiding principles (how do we want to learn together?), and to develop a purpose that is shared and promoted by everyone (what are we aiming to achieve together?).

–> Helpful in this process are visual planning maps as the Workshop Agenda Shaper, the Chaordic Stepping Stones by Chris Corrigan or the 8 Breaths of Process Architecture by Art of Hosting. 

… seeks to grasp the participants’ perspectives

It needs a team to grasp the different perspectives of the people involved. People bring their questions, needs and challenges to the table. They might have interesting solutions, ideas, experiences and know-how to share. They also carry with them their assumptions and beliefs about the way we learn and conduct workshops together.

In the above story, it would be really beneficial for the head of the team to step into the shoes of her team members to realize that something is missing and that a more inclusive invitation is needed.

In participatory processes, I have found that the success or failure of the work is really correlated to the quality, intention and active nature of the invitation.  Just as participatory processes require participatory harvesting, they also require invitations to be participatory, iterative, emergent, and yet clear in intent and boundary.
Chris Corrigan

–> Helpful in this process: Drawing an Empathy Map or working with Personas. Reaching out to participants through a simple survey with a few questions draws a first picture. Extension of the organizing team with representatives from the participants’ side would also be useful.

… invite participants as actors

If we want to use the potential of the people involved and the power of collaborative knowledge we need an extended conversation about the workshop invitation and seek the input from the side of the participants. Starting this conversation before the workshop is engaging and motivating. This means giving the opportunity to contribute and to get ready and prepare.

Participants want to know:

Is this a place where I can learn something?

Is there anybody here I can trust?

Is this place open to my influence?

Questions by Max De Pree (via Swiss Miss)

By inviting people powerfully and purposefully we can make our meetings once again feel like special events, and produce the type of breakthroughs that are only possible through creative collaboration.
Al Pittampalli

–> Helpful in this process: Critical assessment of the process design with track groups/ pilot groups. Based on the participants’ survey, in-depth conversations with participants who will contribute to the workshop in a leading role (story, resource person, interview, market place etc.); invitation of all participants to preparatory webinar or an e-discussion.

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