Recently I’ve noticed I spend less time talking about why we should do public engagement / involvement and more time discussing how it can be done. There seems to be an appetite for more interesting, inclusive activities, rather than endless meetings and committees! I now often get asked for alternative ways to run events.
Here are 4 techniques which people might find helpful…
1.World Cafe – The World Cafe method is a way of facilitating small group discussions around pre-determined questions. You then identify connections and themes together in a larger group. Participants record their discussions by writing or drawing on paper table cloths. There’s lots of really helpful information about the method here.
We used this method at the NIHR Voices event last year. I love the emphasis on creating a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere. I think the way a venue is set up really affects people’s expectations and the way that they contribute. I also like the fact that it encourages groups to build on what others have said, taking discussions forward rather covering old ground. We found that you need quite skilled and confident ‘table hosts’ (facilitators) to make this style work well.
2. Open Space – I’ve attended a few open space events over the past year. At these events the participants set the agenda and take responsibility for starting and documenting discussions. It’s a great way to get people to share knowledge and network. I went to a really interesting event run by Devoted and Disgruntled. Their website is a good place to get more info about the Open Space method.
Although this is a very flexible, participant led approach, I still think you need an experienced chair. The chair really needs to show that they are confident in and committed to the format. This is important as it encourages participants to take risks and get fully involved.
3. Playing Games – There are loads of exercises around which can help a group of people to share ideas and experiences. They are often labelled as ‘drama games’ but they can actually be useful in lots of contexts. Augusto Boal’s famous book ‘Games for Actors and Non-Actors’ is a pretty good starting point if you want examples of games and how they can be used.
There is a lot to be said for games which get people to move around a space, as it can really change the dynamics of a session. Games can also level the playing field a bit if you have a mixed group, as it’s likely to be a new approach for everyone (patients, professionals etc.)
The danger with games is that people can feel exposed. It’s really important that these activities are facilitated well. As a facilitator you need to be aware of the power dynamics within a group, and the needs of each individual. You have to be flexible and willing to adapt exercises to make them inclusive.
4. Simulation – I’ve talked about this in a previous post so I won’t go into lots of detail. Simulation can create live case studies which stimulate discussion and debate. It can also be a way to try out new approaches in safe environment. For example, trying out new ways of describing a research study to help improve recruitment.
See my creative facilitation page for more examples