A Guide To Crowd Workshops

Bringing together a room of people around cultural insight is great, but it's no easy job. Here’s a run-through on how we do it at Crowd...

It’s safe to say we’ve banked our fair share of workshop experience. Effective at any stage during a research project, we use them to lay cultural foundations and align teams around trends; to aid innovation processes and fuel product development; or to define strategic direction and land insight within a business. Whatever the workshop, it’s important that everyone, and everything, is rooted in cultural understanding from the start.

Clearly, there’s not one-size-fits-all. Different objectives will dictate the workshop structure and design, but we thought it worth getting down the most useful pointers nonetheless. When prepared carefully, there’s huge potential to be found within a room engaged in focussed, intensive discussion. Our job is to make sure everyone is engaged in the correct way, and that everyone leaves the room with solutions, a sense of ownership, and a clear path forward. Here’s some of the ways that we do that:

Aims and objectives

First up, it’s really important to understand the objectives. Sounds obvious, sure, but we start by asking exactly what it is we want to achieve. Aligning teams around cultural thinking requires a very different workshop to, say, coming up with a string of product innovations. Setting clear objectives also means that there’s something to measure success by at the end of the day (getting the room involved in this makes sure everyone leaves with a sense of satisfaction).

Equally important is understanding the audience. While it’s hard to get to know the entire attendee list, working out everyone’s relationship to the project, and to each other, helps identify goals and obstacles. Ideally, we try meet clients beforehand to gain an understanding of the group’s knowledge – there’s nothing worse than trying to educate experts or overestimating the inexperienced. We also like to put out an invitation letter, or a teaser video, or even a pre-task to get attendees thinking about the topic beforehand.  

Tasks and materials

Next, picking the right exercises is crucial. Simplicity is key, and every task – whether it’s sharing stories and identifying needs, or getting rid of negativity and barriers – must ladder up to the overall objective. We’re also big fans of workshop stimulus and find it really useful to ignite discussion and focus thinking. Innovation sessions might need materials that people can rip up and rebuild, while an audience immersion may require something more polished and complete. We’ve made all-sorts here at Crowd: magazines, stackable postcards, life-size portraits, prototyping materials to get people thinking with their hands – even an immersive installation of a teenage boy’s bedroom (complete with old pizza boxes and dirty socks).

Depending on the objective, we might bring some fresh perspectives into the conversation, too. Experts can aid with academic understanding, influencers can help steer topics, and we often call upon our CrowdStars network to join the party as well. If it makes sense within the workshop; the more brains around a topic, the better.

Structure and design

A successful session also has a lot to do with the flow. It’s good to mix between passive and active activities, broken up with plenty of breathing space. Speaking of which, we’ve been known to incorporate yoga and mindfulness training into our workshops – it really helps with concentration and keeping the energy levels up. Breaks are definitely not to be underestimated. We take care not to bombard people with information by mixing in a lot of brainstorming and discussion, and debate whether the conversation should be facilitator-led (good for working toward a specific outcome), or more natural and moved along by a moderator. Advance planning goes without saying (don’t forget the catering!), but we also create a checklist to correct any issues nearer the time. Are all the materials ready? Are the agendas printed? What about name-tags, camera-equipment, are there enough snacks?!

Then, it’s action time. At Crowd, we like to experiment with creative ways to capture the day. We film important sections and take photographs throughout, but we also work with live illustrators and creative writers to sketch out ideas and record details in inventive ways. This not only documents the workshop, but also provides great content that we can use within our project deliverables too. Win win.

If you’d like to find out more about Crowd workshops, please email hello@crowdDNA.com to have a chat and hopefully we’ll be workshopping with you in no time.