Workshops at the College's Edinburgh Annual General Meeting (AGM) in July proved to be very popular, attested by the fact that nearly 1000 delegates attended 27 of them, which were distributed over the 5 days of the conference. The College has only recently introduced this format into their AGMs, although faculties and sections have long been including them into their residential meetings, again with positive feedback from those attending. As a result, the Edinburgh Organising Committee asked me to take on the job of Workshop Director for the conference, for which I had no real track record, although I had been previously involved in organising conferences and workshops for the Rehabilitation and Social Sections.
The experience for workshop facilitators in Edinburgh had been a fruitful one, and with this in mind I devised a feedback form to try and collate what had been learnt. I was interested to find out that a large proportion had run workshops many times before, although most had learnt on the job. Some reported the desire for training in workshop methods, or a set of workshop guidelines. With this in mind, I have collated their responses, and prepared a 10-point set of workshop guidelines that hopefully readers of the Bulletin and future workshop leaders at AGMs can use.
Ten guidelines for conducting workshops
Workshops are essentially interactive learning opportunities. They offer the potential to bring to the fore current concerns highlighted by the participants, under a specific theme heading. They should be considered as guided opportunities for exploration and sharing of common clinical or research problems and possible arrival at solutions. Participants will be expecting to be encouraged to ventilate their own difficulties, hear similar contributions from other members and leave with a clearer notion of the issues and some ideas as to how to tackle them on return to their own working environment.
There are various models and techniques that can be applied for successful workshops, and the following 10 guidelines have been collated from facilitators at previous conferences, which might be of help when you are planning your exercises.
Workshops need considerable thought and preparation. It is best to consider them as phased learning processes. These phases need to be mapped out in a progressive fashion, with allotted times for introductions, personal statements and expectations, factual presentations of the main topics to be covered, group work and summary conclusions. You should have a clear idea of what you wish to achieve by the end of the workshop. Facilitators should not aim to cover too broad a topic or the whole field: concentrate on two or three practical aims or points. Having a co-facilitator may be of help in the preparation and execution of the workshop, but more than two can be difficult to manage. Think about the maximum number of delegates that can attend, and if breakout discussion groups are planned, how many of these groups can be incorporated in the time available. Plan chair positioning (rows, circle, horseshoe shape) and possible chair movements during the course of the workshop.
Be prepared for latecomers! Spend a good 5 minutes on individual introductions. Participants should not only state their name and provenance, but also their current work responsibilities and reasons for joining the workshop. If possible, at this stage, they should state what they want to obtain from the workshop. You may wish to have a short warm-up, ice-breaking exercise.
You may choose to give a short presentation (no longer than 10 minutes) on the subject at hand. This should only basically state or define the problem area to be discussed, set out the geography and the landmarks and even be interactive. Experience shows that facilitators spend too long on the introductory presentation, leaving themselves very little time to invite audience participation. Keep an eye on the clock: remember you will only have 1 and a half hours and it is surprising how time flies! It would be helpful if you have handouts with summaries of your presentation.
You may suggest an exploratory task, a specific question, a clinical vignette or a common dilemma with the aim of brainstorming and trawling of ideas. Give all participants a chance to state how the problem affects their practice. There may be a need to break the groups down to a smaller number in order to achieve this. The small groups will have to select a rapporteur and a scribe and specific ideas and concepts should be noted down. Try and get maximum participation, inviting those less forthcoming to make contributions. It is important that you clearly state how long the group should meet, and forewarn them that you will let them know when time is running out.
Remember, you are both a facilitator and the ‘skipper’. You do not provide the content of the workshop, but encourage it to emerge from all participants. This does not mean that you have not anticipated what is likely to surface during the course of the exercise. You have to have a reasonable idea where you are heading and what goals you want to achieve.
Make the groups report back on their conclusions. Ask for responses from the other groups. You may wish to sum up their main findings, set up a priority list of problem areas or simply redefine the problem in other terms.
This may lead to a next phase of short presentation, which takes the subject to other areas of complexity. This presentation can end with further subsequent tasks or questions for the groups to work on.
Repeat the same format as in guidelines three and five.
In the final section, try and put together the main findings or suggestions emanating from the exercises. Be prepared to be surprised by notions you had not considered. Ask the participants if they feel they have covered the main areas of concern, and also what they are taking away from the experience. What can they apply in their workplace? Is there a commitment to try these new ideas soon? Would they like to report back and give some feedback to the facilitator?
It is worth doing a post hoc analysis of the workshop. Did the format permit or encourage active participation? Did you work well with your co-facilitator? Where the main topics covered in the time available? Did participants take away someting worthwhile? Could other techniques have been used? This information should be stored to finetune your next workshop on the same subject.