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.

MeetMe
MeetMe
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.

TAKE-OUTS FROM THE TAKEAWAY

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.

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.

Insightful Design

What role does visual design play in a cultural insights and innovation agency? Crowd designers Elizabeth Holdsworth and Salem Khazali share tips on how they help to make our work impactful...

Designing for a cultural insights and innovation agency throws up many creative challenges and, over the years, we’ve learnt some lessons. Of course, each project is different, and every narrative requires us to flex our creative muscles in new ways – from decks to zines to adult colouring books. But there are some common ways of thinking that we’d like to share with you below. Adopt these and we believe that the insights you deliver will benefit.

Who, what, where?

As creatives, we always start with the same basic questions – ‘who, what and where?’ This set of questions unpacks like an enchanted toolbox, as in fact there are many more questions inside these questions. Who is the client and who are the stakeholders? What form will the research take and what are the hypotheses? Where will the work go once it’s delivered? Where’s it likely to be seen?

These magic questions get us immediately thinking about who the work is for. Because the point is really about the audience, and where we’re aiming. It’s like the hole at the end of the golfing green – it’s a long way away at the moment, but we need to know where the insights will eventually land.

Salem and Elizabeth
Salem and Elizabeth

Design is purpose

Being purposeful is key to good design.

We’re not just making things look pretty, stylish and trendy, or even tidying things up, so they are clear, legible and structured. Designers do all of those things, sure, but these are just by-products of what we are really doing – which is something far more fundamental. We’re visually communicating meaning and intention.

In its broadest definition; design’s really about purpose. One dictionary we looked at says: ‘Purpose or planning that exists behind an action, fact, or object.’ The example cited is of a search for ‘the appearance of design in the universe,’ showing that design can be interchangeable with intentionality – meaning amid chaos. This world we’ve constructed is our design. It’s our design to act this way. Tell us, dear reader, did you come here by design?

Cultural relevance

Working for a brand means understanding their voice and visual language, so that we can present the insights in a relevant way. Beyond this we need to think about culture and ask about how the brand positions itself in the world, and how the deliverables reflect this intention.

Aim to be flexible

As much as having a clear overview of what we need to communicate, we need to build fail-safes into the design process. The phrase ‘kill your darlings’ comes to mind. Client needs can change rapidly, so another habit to get into is to learn not to see your design choices as precious. This is relevant to most fields of design; however, brands are often keen to adopt the latest trends, when they can do so authentically, and so must you be.

Keep it minimal

The best work is brave enough to say a lot with very little and if you look at great pieces of design, it’s nearly invisible. Working in insight, we often feel we need to show clients that we’ve earned our fee. Often this means we write a lot, and in design terms, it means cramming many things onto one page. Don’t be afraid to strip things back. Once you do this, the message you’re trying to communicate will be much clearer and, importantly, will connect more profoundly.

To talk more about the role of design in insight and innovation, get in touch

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.

Catch us at the MRS day devoted to discussing and debating social media behaviours and trends on February 8, 2018...

Our head of insights and innovation, Dr Matilda Andersson, will be presenting at the event; furthering our recent agelessness work and looking at the role of social media in forging cross-generational communication.

Social media is often described as the new bus stop or park bench: a space for teenagers to hang out with each other, away from their parents. However, Matilda will be proposing that social media can also be important for bridging gaps between generations, bringing them closer together. Her insight is grounded in demographic trends, which show the gap between young and old decrease as Gen Z grows up faster, millennials delay adulthood and Gen X and Boomers live in very different ways to their parents.

More info here