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.

Crowd DNA’s Dr Matilda Andersson talked social media and the delicate subject of age at the MRS Social Media Summit 2018...

Age will never disappear (sadly), but as our interests and characters continue to blur, we’re no longer as defined by our DOB. Traditional milestones are happening later; people are working beyond retirement, even the distinct experience of being a teen is coming to an end. We’re moving into a culture of agelessness, where the number of years we’ve notched up really is just a number.

This is the subject that Crowd’s Matilda Andersson tackled at yesterday’s MRS Social Media Summit. Focussing on the huge impact that social media has on this shift, she presented the following contributors:

Bringing families closer together

It’s far from true that only young people are addicted to social media – we see plenty of older generations getting on board too. Matilda used an example from her own mum’s Instagram – a snap of a recent cycling holiday – to show how tech is creating a cross-generational space that allows them to joke, learn and venture outside their usual mother-daughter role. She also explained how platforms like Whatsapp and Messenger For Kids help pair young and old family members, making sure no one is left out.

Matilda's mum on Instagram
Matilda's mum on Instagram
Uniting around shared passions

Social media is a level playing-field when it comes to age. While previously confined to local geographies to find like-minded people, now curation platforms like Pinterest help those with similar passions to unite irrespective of age. Matilda used other examples, including TasteBud and the increase in hyperlocal Facebook groups, to show a rising connection across generational boundaries. Young, old, new; everyone can take part in online discussion.

Building icons for all ages

In perhaps the area where most age barriers can be broken, Matilda highlighted how an influencer’s field of impact isn’t limited to their own age bracket. Referencing Lyn Slater (who, at 63, is making waves in the fashion blogging world) and Coco Princess Pink (a six-year-old Japanese style icon), she celebrated the fact that social media builds icons from, and for, all ages.

Online dating for everyone

It’s definitely not only young people who meet online. The number of 45+-year-olds on dating sites keeps on growing; in fact, between 2013 and 2015, the number doubled (according to Pew research), but it doesn’t all have to be romance related. Matilda also presented MeetMe – a friendship-based platform offering people of different ages the chance to chat – to show how social media can be used to be, well, genuinely social.

Answering the golden question: how do we help brands stay culturally relevant to an ageless audience? Matilda offered some ideas around behavioural data, social listening, and cross-generational interviews, before ending with the assertion that cultural codes need to be redefined way beyond age.

We’ll be sending out a download of Matilda’s report soon. In the meantime, please get in touch if you’d like to discuss further.


An overview of our work for Just Eat. Carefully designed ethnographic methods to build customer empathy in hard-to-reach environments…

Operating in the increasingly competitive place where tech meets home delivery, Just Eat reached out to Crowd DNA to help optimise the brand’s relationship with takeaway outlets – specifically in the UK and Spain – and their owners. It’s a tough space to research. Takeaway owners are busy people, not particularly inclined to divulge the inner workings of their businesses.

We embarked on extensive research with 16 takeaway businesses in the UK and Spain, first working hard to build relationships through phone interviews. With an important level of trust gained, this was followed by an ethnographic phase, in which our teams spent time in the restaurants and outlets, witnessing how each operated, the main challenges they face and where digital services can provide advantage. It was a challenging process, but less in-situ research techniques wouldn’t have got remotely close to the detailed understanding that we arrived at here.

Capturing very rich and real narratives to share in our workshop sessions with Just Eat stakeholders helped this data-driven brand to craft striking new ways to connect with takeaway providers.

Brighten up your week with the latest download from Crowd DNA, this one offering pointers on how to bring more value and innovation to online communities...

At our recent Rise event in London, Crowd DNA director of communities Sabrina Qureshi rebooted the topic of online communities and gave it a good refresh. Debunking common assumptions of what online communities are, and what they look like, Sabrina provided new ideas around themes like innovation, leveraging different audience types, ensuring impact – and, of course, the importance of culture and insights.

For those who missed the event or would like to find out more about Crowd Communities, check out our downloadable pdf here.

Rise: Online Communities

Crowd DNA’s communities director Sabrina Qureshi refreshed and re-booted the topic of online communities at our latest Rise event in London...

We’re not actually new to communities here at Crowd DNA – we’ve been running them since the beginning in lots of different shapes and sizes (and countries). Even so, in typical Crowd style, we like to go beyond the obvious and explore new ways in which they can meet commercial needs. 

At our latest Rise event in London, communities director Sabrina Qureshi took the topic of online communities and gave it good shake. Debunking assumptions of ‘what a community looks like’, Sabrina provided quick fire ideas around themes like innovation, the need for flexible audiences and socialising community insights to ensure impact.

While communities can, of course, be used to talk directly to customers, Sabrina explained that the real joy comes from recruiting and engaging leading-edge or hard to reach audiences – different members who can be brought into the mix to ignite discussion and add new cultural references. By reframing communities as cultural insight hubs, we can uncover ongoing trends and insights from across the globe, and discover lots of exciting opportunities along the way.


Sabrina in action at Rise: Online Communities
Sabrina in action at Rise: Online Communities

An editorialised version of the presentation will be sent out soon. In the meantime, here’s our Crowd Communities intro video:

IRL With Clients

We've packaged up our Crowd IRL thinking in a nice new report format. Email if you'd like a copy...

Crowd IRL is how we get out on-the-road with stakeholder teams, immersing them in the lives and culture of people; helping clients escape the confines of simply attending the debrief presentation or the viewing facility.

In this report, we’ve gathered learnings from across the Crowd DNA team, exploring and celebrating our Crowd IRL method. Send an email to crowdIRL@crowdDNA.com if you’d like to receive a copy and/or discuss ideas for how to make a project of this kind work for your team.

From launching an NYC office to unveiling our thought leadership study for Spotify, we’ve had an amazing year at Crowd…

At this time of year, everyone’s waistbands expand a little. At Crowd, we’ve been happily growing all year. Of course we can’t talk about all the incredible projects that have seen our team travel from South Korea to Argentina and back again (several times). What we can say is that we’re happy to welcome several weighty global clients to the roster.

January kicked off with the release of the Power of Audio project on Spotify for Brands. The study, which saw us travel to US, Brazil, Japan and Manchester, investigates and celebrates the role of sound in our lives, as well as looking at what the future of audio holds for brands and consumers. It’s a great example of the power of socialising insights: the trailer has been viewed 326,000 times on Twitter and counting.

At Crowd we believe that understanding visual culture is essential for getting to grips with consumer culture. In February, Matilda Andersson, head of insight and innovation, shared our thinking when she presented ‘A picture paints: understanding visual culture’ at Atlantic Monday, a Festival Of NewMR webinar.

March saw us proudly open an office in New York, headed by former Flamingo Kiosk NYC lead Hollie Jones. The move to Cooper Square consolidates existing US client relationships and has already resulted in building several new ones. We’re off to a great start, with Hollie joined by Isabelle Kage of the Insight Strategy Group and senior consultant Tom Eccles from London’s Socialise team joining them both in January.

Our first Rise breakfast event in London took place in March. ‘Superfans’ saw Anna Chapman, Socialise director, map the journey of fandom, drawing on our work around influencers and passions.

Gender empowerment has been a huge theme this year both within Crowd and in wider culture. In May, associate director Jake Goretzki discussed the changing face of masculinity in ‘How to speak man’. His session explored changing attitudes to masculinity and, in particular, what being a man means among millennials.

In June, products and services expert, Tom Morgan teamed up with our service designer Essi Mikkola to discuss how we tackle consumer journeys at Crowd, combining a cultural, behavioural science and visual approach.

At Crowd, we’re well known for our work researching millennials and increasingly Gen Z, so it might seem a little odd to debunk traditional demographics with an event called ‘Agelessness’. But as an insights and innovation agency, we know that as the world changes, so do our beloved cohorts. In September, our brand and communications expert, Eleanor Sankey tackled this delicate subject by exploring the idea that understanding consumers by age traits can be a little limiting at times.

Over the year we hosted a number of Rise events in London and Amsterdam. Each one, supported by Crowd content, including downloadable PDFs. Please email hello@crowddna.com if you’d like to be sent these.

What better time than the summer to make a short film about what we do? Edited by our head of film, Tom Eccles, it’s definitely worth just over one minute of your time.

September saw the launch of CrowdStars our global network of thinkers, influencers, creators and culture-shapers. We work with them to shake up conventional thinking within businesses in areas including immersive workshops and co-creation sessions, expert interviews and forecasting.

Huge congratulations to our head of insight and innovation Matilda Andersson who became a doctor this year. In September she appeared on a panel at the Jaguar Land Rover TechFest where she spoke about millennials and mobility. Have we reached the end of car ownership? Not yet it seems.

In October Sabrina Qureshi joined us as online communities director. We’re not actually new to online communities. We’ve been running them for years for the likes of IKEA, Booking.com, Sony Music and Channel 4. But now we’re giving the offer an even stronger position within our business – recognising the value of online communities in developing deep and continuous relationships with target audiences for our clients.

And as the year draws to a close, we can unveil another great piece of insights work for Facebook, which this time saw our team travelling across Canada on an icy road trip.

Thanks to all of you who made 2017 our best year yet. If you want the opportunity to join our journey into 2018, we’re recruiting for this and various roles so please do get in touch.

Community Engagement

Engage to succeed. Disengage to fail. Our online communities director, Sabrina Qureshi, explores how best to keep community participants motivated and productive…

Why do people join communities?

For the money, because they are bored? Happily there’s generally more to it than that. Having asked a lot of members from various communities why they decided to join, the feedback is regularly: ‘I’m interested in finding out more about the brand.’ It’s always a relief to know that members are not just driven by the monetary gain and it helps to emphasise the difference between a community and a panel. It also provides the fuel to convince teams that engagement is important. In fact, the success of the whole community relies on it.

Engagement benefits

Engaged communities provide an altogether better working model: better retention, higher volume of responses, richer content and you can set more demanding tasks. It ensures less cost to manage, increases efficiencies and inspires stronger insights. It’s a no brainer.

There’s a lot at stake

When you create a branded community it is an extension of your values, expectations and, yes, your brand. So, if consumers get a bad experience, it won’t just affect your research but the brand as a whole. Conversely, if you succeed, you can reap the rewards of positive word-of-mouth. If you’re creating a non-branded community, members don’t have the pull of a brand to help engage, (even more so if it’s a low engagement subject), so you need to work even harder to create a worthwhile and fun environment for participants.

Engagement tactics

There are many elements that can help to engage community members, from scheduled incentives and the look, feel and personality of the community, to the quality of the actual research work itself.

- Brainstorm all areas of the community when thinking about engagement

- Build up an engagement bank early and keep updating it

- Keep the ideas relevant and unique to your brand/members; one size doesn’t fit all

- Think creatively; make it fun

Share back

If you want participants to share with you, share back with them as much as you can. It’s incredibly important to provide regular feedback from the business on the impact the members are making. We know this is not always possible, as things take a while to develop in-house plus confidentially may be a factor, but share what you can, as often as you can. This could take the form of video updates from the brand team, emails or content published on the community platform.

New friends

Members want to feel like they are part of something, so add in a range of activities to encourage them to get to know each other. Introduce them to each other with personal on-boarding sessions and member spotlights. Introduce your team and whoever is running the community, and share your answers to questions. Schedule face to face group meetings, Skype chats or live online focus groups. Try to treat everyone as an individual, send them a birthday card or reminder of a brand discount. Remember this is a long-term relationship – aim to make friends!

Enjoyable research

If the research schedule is busy, make sure each project is as engaging as possible. If you’re sending a long survey (try not to!), add a forum on the back to get people talking to each other. Gamify response options with quick fire questions or task and points-based activities. Split longer activities over multiple days. Add in tiered incentives for multiphase projects. Use engaging tech platforms to help, not hinder. Ask paeticipants if they enjoyed it, and what you should change.

Work schedules

Most communities go through stages of high and low volumes of research activity. It’s extremely useful that your community managers own the activity schedule and help to organise it. When there’s a gap or a project cancellation it can be a scramble to get anything onto the community. If you build up your engagement bank at the start you can be prepared with activities to fill the gaps as soon as you need to. These could take any form – a timely forum debate, weekend photo task, scheduled live chat etc…

Mutual benefit

We talked about this in the recruitment stage, and it applies throughout the life of the community. What are participants, as well as you, going to get out of community membership? This doesn’t need to be something physical, but it could be a new friendship, a wider understanding about their fellow members, learning about a life hack. It could be support on their new business, or a feeling of being part of something that influences new products and service design. Try to achieve a fair value exchange.

In it to win it

Extrinsic incentives are always a fail-safe basic for ongoing engagement, but try not to use points that link directly to money, as this encourages a transactional mind frame. Create a monthly prize draw with multiple vouchers prizes, and preferably individualise the vouchers to the personal interests of the members. Get up to speed local market best practise, as in some countries not all vouchers are acceptable. Audit the assets the brand has and use them to surprise and delight especially engaged members. Gamified engagement points can be used to create tiered systems where members graduate up, and in return get extra benefits (additional prize draw entries, surprises, early release content, influence over future research topics).

Time spent engaging members sometimes fails to be adequately prioritised when running communities and often involves more input than initially envisaged. But with the right guidance and planning it can become an extremely symbiotic aspect of helping your community to succeed.

To find out more about engagement, get in touch.

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