Often we think of conferences as rigid and structured, with every minute mapped out by the planning committee. At a recent AGM, hosted by the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health (CanWaCH), we learned that conferences can also offer freedom and the power of voice and choice, while still accomplishing important business goals.
Following requests from its members to have a more participatory format, CanWaCH partnered with the Resonance Centre for Social Evolution to deliver a truly unique AGM, which would reflect the members’ interests and goals for the day. Here are three fresh workshopping ideas we learned that we’ll be applying to our own projects moving forward:
Discovery dialogues: active listening for active change
It’s amazing what we can learn from one another through active listening. Discovery Dialogues is a workshopping method through which the participants engage in focused, active listening.
Separating the room into triads – or trios of chairs – all participants were asked to team up with two people they hadn’t met before. Then, a question was posed to the group. Each person in a trio had three minutes to reflect and answer, during which the other two were asked to listen closely, not relating to their own experiences, but listening in the moment. When the time was up, it would be the next participant’s turn to speak.
“It’s incredibly rare to have two people listen so intently to what you’re saying,” one participant told me. At the end of the three minutes, people could volunteer to share what they heard from their triads with the larger group.
What resulted was a deeper understanding of the perspectives of others that isn’t as easy to pinpoint in larger groups. It also allowed people an opportunity to formulate their answers with their most important thoughts at the forefront – as three minutes go by fast!
For groups like CanWaCH, who are dedicated to hearing members’ needs and finding ways to create change, workshops such as Discovery Dialogues offer an opportunity to fulfill these goals.
If you loved choose-your-own-adventure novels as a child, this workshopping delivery method is for you! Instead of having a firm list of breakout sessions for participants to choose from for the afternoon, Possibilities allowed participants to choose what was important for them to discuss.
Members were asked to write down topics they were interested in, read them out to the group, and tape them to the wall. Once everyone’s ideas, or possibilities for sessions, were on the wall, a facilitator grouped similar ideas together.
From there, interesting topics of discussion that were relevant to members were formulated. These topics were used to create breakout discussions for the afternoon.
Topics such as Engaging all Canadians in Women and Children’s Health, Health and Equity for Vulnerable Populations, and How Partnerships Work filled up the afternoon breakout groups.
Possibilities is a way for your audiences to tell you what they care about, and build an agenda to cater to that.
Asks and offers: coming together to share resources
From so many unique discussions came many different needs. Some projects people were interested in working on required additional resources, others required group support and engagement. At the end of the day, the CanWaCH membership came together to make asks and offer solutions to one another.
Each breakout group summarized their asks and posed them to the group. Then, members around the room would put up their hands and offer what they could.
Some people in the room knew of specific grants that could help. Others offered their own time.
After any group discussion, there is always an idea of ‘What’s Next?’ Using a workshop such as Asks and Offers allows people to come away with concrete next steps, increased commitment to partner with others, and a sense of closure from the day.
These three simple, yet powerful, workshops allowed the CanWaCH membership to remain present in the moment and engage in the topics they were most interested in. Each one offered a new approach to discussion, teamwork and breakout sessions.
Using any or all in a meeting is sure to keep audiences engaged and listening, livening up the day.
Written by Ana Gajic
Former Consultant, NATIONAL Public Relations