Lately, I am digging my nose into human-centred design. I found confirmation for many aspects important in preparing a workshop. My dive into human-centred design was refreshing. When I see myself as designer, the workshop becomes a beautiful design product, and the preparation process a creative act.

What I take with me from this dive:

Invent each workshop anew

Each workshop is unique. Each design is different because people, purpose and context change. An essential step is to truly understand the expectations and potential of the different stakeholders involved: what are the participants’ questions and contributions; what is the organizer’s ambition and expectation? It needs a design or hosting team to prepare the workshop. The design team generates ideas how to organize the workshop taking into consideration the potential of the participants.

Whereas scientists investigate today to discover explanations for what already is, designers invent tomorrow to create something that isn’t.
Jeanne Liedtka

Iterate and learn

It needs a team that is ready to extend the invitation process and to involve participants into the preparation phase; a team that is ready to iterate and to learn. The more we iterate the more we can learn. An iterative design process includes pre-activities to optimize the workshop’s results. Pre-activities can include a pilot group, a survey, interviews or chats with participants, eventually a smaller pre-workshop, a webinar or an e-discussion (see the blog post by Isobel McConnan telling about a ‘Sneak preview’ – a lunch-time webinar – they organized in the preparation for a conference). The effect is that the workshop borders become somehow fluid, the process is extended. So is the learning. And that is what we want, isn’t it?

In our facilitation practice, we often talk about the power of tweaks. We’re interested in how small changes can lead to interesting consequences. We are not operating groups like a machine, instead we are working with living systems.
Johnnie Moore 


Sometimes it needs the facilitator’s persuasion to shift an agenda to a more conversational approach, to create room for experimentation, to have moments of storytelling and more. Facilitators need to push the boundaries of standard workshop agendas (limited to input followed by conversation) and think in possibilities. By experience, I know it is not always easy but worthwhile to insist and not to let go to easily.

In one of the workshops I was facilitating lately, we had a morning of storytelling, no introduction, no input just two rounds of story harvesting. The listening was intense. Through the stories all issues were covered, all the ingredients came on the table.

Make it beautiful

Pack it nicely, keep it simple and elegant. That are the words of a product designer. In methodological thinking this can be translated as keep it simple, don’t over-structure the process. It never came to my mind to see a smooth well-thought through process with ample space to breath, think and generate ideas and solutions as something beautiful. But it is, isn’t?

What are your insights from human-centred design?

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