Monday, March 26, 2007

Facilitator's Notebook: Testing, Testing, 1-2-3

This week Lizzie and I are at a workshop on livelihoods and landscapes, which is being hosted by one of our organization's largest programmes. We have 50 participants from all over the world, and to start our introductions in an interactive, exciting way, we decided to structure a "Speed Meeting" activity.

In this activity, each person was asked to draw up a short list of other participants that they would like to meet (people they did not already know well) for a series of five short, 8 minute speed meeting. Initially each person identified 10 potential partners which was used to inform the matching process. After we matched the pairs, we gave people back their own, individual Speed Meeting card which listed their 5 meetings. The process started with a "Go!" and then partners switched every 8 minutes until everyon got to speak to their 5 matches in the time available.

This activity has just finished and I am writing this blog post in our "knowledge marketplace". What seemed like a good idea, and still does to all the participants who thoroughly enjoyed the activity, actually took three people about 2 hours to do the matching process. It was incredibly complex to record everyone's preferences and to match the pairs to satisfy as many people's wishes as possible. We managed in the end, and what did we learn about this activity?

  • 50 people is probably over the limit to do a matching process, 25 would be maximum suggested using a self-selection process.

  • Ask people to pick their top 5 (not 10) so there is less data to work with. Otherwise, there is really too much information! In the end we were only able to match 3-4 out of the list of 10 for each person anyways.

  • Finally, test ambitious activities first (I did a version of this a few years ago, but this was much more complex due to the size of the group). This is probably the biggest point, we used a lot of session time generating an appropriate matrix to capture the data for the matching process. Time we could have usefully applied to other things.

In spite of this, in the end it worked very well; people are happy, and it lifted the energy enormously. AND we have three facilitators who have learned the hard way that testing new activities before the workshop is absolutely worth the time it takes, and ultimately saves time during the event itself!