Agenda:Session Design

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Session Design Guidelines

Thanks in advance to any and all who chip in and help facilitate sessions at collaborative events, it is always deeply appreciated.

A primary agenda goal at Aspiration events is to have sessions that are interactive and driven by the participants to the greatest degree possible. In addition to fostering richer forms of learning and retention, this approach maximizes opportunities for participants to get to know one another, discover shared challenges or needs, and establish common ground and basis for collaboration.

What follows are some thoughts on what that means in practice as you think about how to structure your session(s).

The following are suggestions; we trust facilitators to design the session they think will be best. These are not "rules", but rather guidelines :^) And there's a lot here; pick and choose what seems relevant and useful, no need to try and incorporate all of these considerations into your session.

What will make a good session?


  • Have a concrete goal or purpose for your session--what will your session produce or capture? Possibilities include:
    • Transferring specific skills or know­-how
    • Brainstorming ideas to address a specific problem or opportunity
    • Comparing and contrasting different entities, approaches, models etc and summarizing commonalities and differences.
    • Identifying action items and next steps in a particular context
    • Achieving shared understanding on a specific issue or challenge
    • Making a list for participants to take away from the session, such as "most pressing needs" or "crazy new campaign ideas"
    • Creating a map of some part of the field or tools or stakeholders
  • Think about what kind of dialog and brainstorm processes can best get you to that outcome. The goal is to a) avoid any lecture or presentation by the facilitator or any participant, and instead focus on collaborative processes that get all participants involved.
  • Design your session to be flexible and adapt to the questions, interests and actual needs of the participants who attend
  • Employ interactive approaches that emphasize question­-driven dialog and peer sharing as a core part of the session
  • Ideally it is best if your session can posit 1 or more "next steps" as you are wrapping up. What might be done with the information and outputs you generate? Where could it be shared, vetted, improved or applied?
  • All that said, the session is first and foremost envisioned as a collaborative discussion, and just focusing on that as your main priority will create a productive and community-building space for participants to share and explore.


  • "Parallelize" some of the session time by letting participants work 1­-on-­1 or in small groups, and then reporting out thoughts relevant to the session topic and goal
  • Invite participants to draw or visually represent their ideas, mental models, or other concepts
  • Make it hands­-on, with participants learning by making or doing

Relevant and Topical Content

  • Integrate your participants' real-­world situations and specifics into the learning
  • Examples and visuals: Show participants concrete examples that illustrate what you want to convey or share
  • Employ examples most likely to be relevant and useful in a range of cultural contexts


  • Use inclusive language that invites everyone into the dialog and the process while avoiding jargon and idiom.
  • Don't try to cover too much
  • Make it fun

What makes a less effective session?

  • A vague or overly broad purpose for the session.
  • Over­preparation: Over­designing the session in advance works against the goal of participant driven sessions; come in with a vision and a plan for how to enage with participants, not a detailed script of what will happen.
  • Lectures or long presentations: Pushing lots of one-­directional information tires folks out and overloads brains
  • "Questions at the end" approaches to interactivity and dialog
  • Trying to convince participants of a specific point of view or "right answer"
  • Using tech jargon or domain-specific terminology that marginalizes those less familiar with the topic area.
  • Anything that makes the participants look or feel like they are watching TV :^)