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A self assessment / report on my first workshop

I'm sharing the experience of my first workshop, in the hope that it might help others see some of the problems that I faced, and be better prepared for your own workshops.

Set and Setting
The workshop ran at the offices of the company where I work for. I invited people at 18:30, which is a regular time for after-work events in Berlin, and assumed that I would start the workshop proper around 18:45. I knew they would be hungry so I baked a loaf of bread (the office has an oven) and prepared home made hummus. I also bought some juice and cookies, and tee was also available.
The office has a meeting table that can sit up to 12 people (tight), next to which stands a 55" touchscreen that I used. I left some books over the table that I thought might be interesting for participants: Limits to Growth, Drawdown, Wann wen nicht wir* (a handbook from Extinction Rebellion).
I had a main computer connected to the touchscreen, showing the simulator and slides, and a secondary one with the facilitation guide.

The group
Nine friends came: three women and six men, from eight different nationalities, some with backgrounds in science, others were climate activists, others specialize in circular economy, and a couple not that involved in the topic but still curious.

Many people started cancelling 2 hours before the event, and I slightly panicked. I messaged others to ask if they would come, which helped me relax when I received several confirmations. Learning: when doing it with a small group of people in an informal setting, send reminders a day or two before.

Introduction / Start
I did a pre-workshop introduction explaining what my objectives were (to receive feedback on the workshop and my facilitation), and then did the proper workshop introduction.
I also asked them to shortly introduce themselves (as we were few) and to state why they were there. I would not do that with a bigger room, but I wanted to find a way for people to know each other's faces so that they might feel comfortable discussing with each other. I think this would normally be accomplished by the "gathering responses" part of the "actions phase".
Some arrived very early, which took away some of my preparation time, and delayed things like taking the bread from the oven (which was then it was stuck in the baking form, and another participant had to help me with it while I did the introduction). Learning: finish the setup 30 minutes before starting time so nobody catches you by surprise.

Some people arrived late, and the office has a single room, so I had to run to buzz people in while I was in the middle of talking or welcoming. This was very distracting for everyone. Learning: need a co-facilitator or someone taking care of the environment. The workshop space should not be next to a source of noise or distraction (the buzzer and door)
I asked permission for recording a video (of me and the screen). Everyone agreed... but the video is out of focus and has no sound. I also forgot to do connect a mic to record sound independently. Learning: do a proper test of the recording equipment before starting the workshop. Having a co-facilitator would also have helped to make sure we don't forget to test anything.
Even though I have experience talking about climate and explaining these issues, I stumbled upon the beginning. It was not bad, but I realized that I failed at properly connecting the issue at hand - that I know and can explain - with the tool. I tried using the existing slides to illustrate some talking points, but it was not a smooth process. Learning: prepare a small script and my own slides with which I feel comfortable, and use those  for the introduction.

The actions phase
I did not follow the proper recommendations, and started using the simulator from the first action. This was not intentional, I just forgot... and as soon as I moved into the actions phase and gave out the controls 'cheat sheet', some participants started fixating on what the simulator offers, and not so much on the question of what actions from the real world they can think of. Some, who have a good knowledge of co-benefits and secondary effects of actions, even started discussing these effects before proposing a concrete action. It was tricky to strike a balance between asking them to 'play the game my way' (tell me your action and let's analyze it all together) and letting them share their knowledge. I can guess that mine was not an average audience, but this can certainly happen during any run of the workshop. As we advanced through more actions this lessened out. Learning: don't forget to first gather some actions, and only then move to applying them! Feedback: someone proposed later that the simulator could have an 'introduction' mode, where only the graphs are shown, but not the controls. Or that I show slides that include only the graphs.

They wanted to know what exactly every slider meant. I had to enter often into the details of each before they were satisfied as to what we were doing (e.g., what does it mean to move the afforestation slider to the max?). I was not ready to answer all questions, but we found together the answers to most when digging deeper into the additional information. Learning: I guess it will take me several hours of playing, reading, and doing the workshop to be able to confidently answer most of these questions.

On the other hand, some participants could answer other participants' questions, which led to several discussions and interactions among them. I let this happen a lot, as it's the kind of audience that enjoys discussing and it also helped me move away from a central role. I understand the role of facilitating as helping others acquire the knowledge, and not necessarily being the source of it.

I often wanted to help explain the effects of some actions with graphs, but could not find the most appropriate ones. I guess, again, that with practice I'll be able to. The Kaya graphs were helpful more than once, but for other things, I tried to not spend a lot of time looking for the right visualization and rather continue with the workshop. I think for this run, it was not a problem.

I did not know how long we would be in this phase, and I had promised people it would last no longer than 2 hours. We spent around 45 minutes to an hour, and managed to reach 1.9 degrees. Participants had a good grasp of the underlying dynamics, and in many cases they could give reasonably good explanations of the results of actions (or even predict them) by themselves. Learning: keep proper track of time. It's very easy to get derailed in the discussions. Again, having a co-facilitator would have helped.

Funny note: I'm used to discussing this topics in German, and had forgotten some words in English (e.g.Treibhausgas -> greenhouse gas). Learning: I should make sure that I practice my introduction out loud, just to make sure that I remember all the words in the language that I'm going to talk in - same would apply for my mother tongue (Spanish).

What will it take? / Silence and Reactions
I did not follow strictly with this phase as delineated in the facilitator guide. I could perceive that the mood was not cheerful or celebratory. I am not a "cheer up, woo woo!" person, I'm more of a "let's get sh*t done" person. I also suspect that there are heavy cultural differences between the audiences this has been tested with, and the audience I did it with. Feedback/Question: who have you tested this with? I found it really hard to move to a "congratulate ourselves" mood, and I wonder if it's about different cultural backgrounds, or world-views.

I ended up suggesting myself to tax carbon, and the slider finally moved to 1.4, and with that we finished the workshop. Anyway I asked for a minute of silence and to reflect on the experience and how they felt. Some reactions (from different people):
  • Feeling hopeful, because there are many things that can be done.
  • There is no single solution, but we have to undertake several actions.
  • Feeling hopeless, there are too many things to do and each one is hard.
  • Most of the actions had to do with government policies and don't have much to do with their personal possibilities.
  • Learned a lot.
  • Liked hearing and participating in the discussions.

Building and Rebuilding hope / Call to action
Unfortunately I skimmed through this, time had ran out. Also, most of my audience is already active. Learning: practice with an audience that's more similar to the kind of audiences that I might face later, and time better the previous phases so I don't run out of time by this point!
I did ask my participants to think about who could be interested in doing the workshop, and if they would like to facilitate it with me.

Additional thoughts and learnings:
  • We finished around 20:30. People were tired, and some still hungry (the bread and hummus ran out fast). This definitely can have an influence on audiences' mood.
  • From before the workshop, I was not very enthusiastic about the final parts (building hope specially), knowing my audience and my own limitations. I think I would try some variations on the format that don't require to try to bring people into a celebratory spirit in a way that feels forced to me, or at least I would decide on that depending on the mood that I feel from the room. I would prepare also some ending slides that contain pointers to potential local & global action that they can undertake. On the other hand, I might have set myself already for failure by thinking before hand that it would not work...
  • I struggled with whether I should use the existing slides (that I was not 100% satisfied with) or not. They contained a lot of useful information, but some slides felt not relevant to my public, and most examples US-centered. If I'm going to use slides, they need to be ones that I feel comfortable with.
  • I realized later that I did not follow that well what is already in the facilitator's guide - out of lack of preparation and being distracted by externalities during the workshop. The feedback and learnings showed that it would have been a good idea to do so!
  • In hindsight, it might have been worth to take 5 seconds now and then to look at the guide and make sure I follow the suggestions. I wanted to write down my own 'navigation sheet' to know what comes next all the time, but did not in the end.

Main conclusion and takeaway: I need to do another practice, time more time to prepare, and ideally do it with a co-facilitator/helper, in a better controlled environment with less distractions.

Thanks for taking the time to write up your experience, Sebastian.  Very helpful!

1 person likes this

Yes.  I am reading through your experience right now as I prepare for my second practice run with a bigger group (20+) tonight.  Very helpful insight.  After my first experience - I have many of the same experiences.   I am hoping for an improvement and even more insight tonight.

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