Workshop activities – good and bad features

The following is a short checklist I developed when creating activities for workshops and learning events. It’s a very basic list and ideal for those “new to the game”! It is based on the assumption that there are a few generic features of activities that work well or work less well. I am sure the list can be added to, but it’s a useful basic list.

Activities work well when…

the purpose is clear (both to designer, facilitator and participant)

outcomes exist within clearly defined boundaries (though these may be very wide)

the activity length is appropriate to the event

the activity is well placed within the event

supporting materials are well prepared and appropriate

good facilities and equipment are available

facilitation is of the highest quality

the activity is well and properly prepared and piloted

they tap into the “spirit of the times”

they meet a real need or address a real question

they challenge mediocrity (they seek to push the boundaries of the “comfort zone”)

Activities do not work well when…

they are poorly conceived, prepared, and facilitated (we “busk” them badly, time them poorly, focus on ourselves getting through the activity, not the participants getting the best from the activity)

they are ‘force-fitted’ into an event

they are poorly placed in the event timetable

participants and facilitators cannot see their relevance

the instructions and process are too complex and even confusing

participants feel they are being manipulated towards some hidden outcome

participants feel they could have run the activity much better themselves

participants have done the activity once too often before (it is a ‘groaner’)

Participants these days do not like to feel they are being manipulated, even for good reason, into learning or experiencing something. Activities need to be appropriate to where people are in their own process of learning and change. We need to be prepared to drop activities at the last minute, to adapt them to the group we are working with, the re-pace them, to rethink their purpose, to allow more time for reflection afterwards, and to link them with different activities.

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