Designing an Effective Co-Design Workshop

by Kevin Makice

One of the great challenges of complex design is engaging stakeholders, both internal and external, in the narrative of the design. Because the key voices extend beyond the UX design team, and because time is precious everywhere, co-designing efforts can benefit from some considerate design itself.

Last month, Paula Welling posted a few thoughts on what can be done to improve the participant experience during workshops where “the goal is to explicitly do strategy and design work with a large client team.” These include:

Establish a shared reference. Knowing what’s going on is the gateway to empowered participation, even what you say it seems obvious. Taking time at the start to reflect the tacit knowledge provides a base context for the work ahead.

Evoke the mission. The reason for meeting must be big and compelling enough to justify the time investment. (“An inspirational and accessible mission gives people both the emotional latitude and the urgency to try new things and accommodate and appreciate their compatriots.”)

Personalize the purpose. Everyone involved has a piece of the puzzle (knowledge, influence, insight, compassion). Work to make every voice heard and allow each individual to link their personal experiences to the project. This includes the planners.

Prepare for excellence. Under the presumption that the workshop must end with valuable insights, do the leg work in advance of the meeting to provide new research and summaries of past work that will be directly relevant to the most difficult issues on the agenda. Remove ambiguity in small groups by providing a clear framework for engagement through activities and tools.

Reveal the forest in the trees. Make ideas tangible. Then, synthesize them into priorities. (“The hard work of the workshop is in creating the big picture perspective from the many inputs.”)

Be grateful. A bunch of smart and thoughtful people just spent a good chunk of their time not working their own deadlines to help contribute to your project. This is a gift.

Adaptive Path (July 13, 2011, by Paula Wellings)