Facilitation:Session Design Guidelines

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Aspiration agendas are designed as a diverse set of participant-driven discussions. Sessions are dialog- and outcome-oriented rather than presentation or lecture format.

Goals in a working session are primarily around collaborative knowledge sharing, co-creation of outputs, and relationship-building, and much less about pure information delivery.

A primary objective is to have all participants in a group contribute and participate actively, rather than having one or a few participants push out a lot of information.

Overall, sessions are intended to be highly interactive. Facilitators' primary goal is to enable peer learning, address questions, and support peer sharing by focusing on conversation quality.

Bring your positive energy, collaborative instincts and stay focused on your goal!

Designing Your Session

The following are suggestions and guidelines; facilitators should design the session they think will be best.

There is also a lot covered below; pick and choose what seems relevant and useful, no need to try and incorporate all of these considerations into one session.

Session Design

The role of the facilitator is to *enable peer sharing of knowledge*. It is *not* to "deliver" a session or present a lot of content in any form.

There are 3 key steps to designing your session:

  1. Have a clear outcome in mind: what is the session trying to achieve or produce?
  2. Have a plan for working towards the stated outcome: how will you allocate time in your session, what steps move the group toward productive results, and how are participants contributing to the same?
  3. Decide on how you will capture proceedings and outcomes, and how you will report back to the larger group.

These 3 steps are explained in greater detail below.

1: Decide on the session outcome

To focus and guide your session, identify a concrete goal or purpose, such as:

  • Brainstorming ideas to address a specific problem or opportunity
  • Achieving shared understanding on a specific issue or challenge
  • Working through 1 or more scenarios and capturing insights and learnings
  • Identifying action items and next steps in a particular context
  • Transferring specific skills or know­-how
  • Making a list of best practices
  • Designing or reviewing a campaign plan
  • Capturing learnings from an action
  • Making a wish list or a list of challenges in a specific context

2: Make plan for how to use session time effectively

Once the desired outcome is identified, design the session to produce the desired output.

Have a plan for how time will be allocated. Once you know how long your session time slot will be, model to use about 75% of that time maximum. For example, for a 1-hour session, plan out 45 minutes of session time, as things always take longer than you think, and a 45-minute plan will end up being a 60-minute reality.

A sample session plan is included below.

Other best practices to bear in mind:

  • Design your session to be flexible and adapt to the questions, interests and actual needs of the participants who attend; it is less productive to “just follow the script”.
  • "Less is more": try to do a small number of things well in your session, rather than cramming too many elements into what you work on. Too much preparation is not a good thing; just have a clear plan for how you want to spend the time, and be ready to adapt as participants get engaged.
  • Employ relevant and Topical Content: To improve the value of your session to those present, you can:
    • Integrate your participants' real-­world situations and specifics into the learning
    • Share examples and visuals: Show participants concrete examples that illustrate what you want to convey or share
    • Employ resources that are most likely to be relevant and useful in a range of cultural contexts

3: Finally, have a plan for capturing proceedings and outcomes

You have at least two primary options:

  • For discussion-oriented sessions, you can ask one of your participants to take notes. Ideally these notes will be recorded on a laptop so that transcription is not required after the session. But hand-written notes are also fine if the laptop option is not available.
  • For more creative or brainstorm-structured sessions, outputs may be more visual in nature. These might be drawings or collections of post-it notes, or notes scribed on large easel sheets. For capturing these types of outputs, photographs are usually the best, and can be then shared with those at the event in charge of managing documentation.

In all cases, notes capture from sessions is about quality over quantity. Verbatim notes of all that transpires are less useful than thoughtful synopsis of key points coupled with summary of key take-aways and any next steps.

In the last 5 minutes or so of your session, please summarise the outcomes to that point, and note if there are recommended next steps.

Sample Session Structure

Imagine you are running a session on "Best practices for achieving earned media". You might structure it this way:

  • 3 minutes: State the frame and goals for the session to the group
  • 5 minutes: Go round to invite each participant to say IN ONE SENTENCE what they want to get out of the session
  • 10 minutes: Have participants break into pairs and brainstorm the best practices *and* the questions they have about achieving earned media, putting each item on a separate sticky note.
  • 10 minutes: Collect and group the practices and questions sticky notes into related columns of notes.
  • Remainder of session until wrap-up: Use your judgement as facilitator to identify 2-3 themes or "hot spots" from what has been produced to go into deeper dialog and sharing. Alternately, have participants vote by marking which topics they want to work on.
  • Last 3 minutes: Summarize and identify any possible next steps.

This is but one example, there are plenty of ways to structure a collaborative session. The main thing is to have a plan, watch the clock, and be ready to be flexible.