Hopefully you’ve already given some thought as to who is vital to the ultimate success of the initiative under discussion. Some may be easier to identify than others, but whoever they are it is vital that they are represented around the table(s).
In some circumstances where the goals or remit are clearly and narrowly defined already the ‘cast’ may almost choose itself, but be careful not to overlook the less obvious and perhaps no less important people – and that includes ‘users’
Our project management guide has some useful information on identifying ‘stakeholders’ which may help ensure you cover all the main bases. Alternatively why not try a ‘graffiti wall’ with a colleague or two to flag up any possible candidates.
Ideally you want as many relevant opinions from as many relevant perspectives as possible:
- ‘Enablers’ and ‘customers’
- ‘Managers’ and ‘doers’.
If you can identify and accommodate all those who have the power, knowledge and expertise to ‘get it done’, so much the better. This will maximise the chance of you being able to agree courses of action that easily transfer into binding actions and results after the event.
There is no minimum number of participants required to utilise any of these techniques. In essence many of them simply represent ways of structuring thought processes, as well as facilitating communication. As a result there is no reason why many of them cannot be used by a couple of people sat together in a small office, or even by one person alone (though some, such as bean counting, will prove rather superfluous in such circumstances).
It may be worth giving a little more thought as to what the maximum number of participants you wish to accommodate may be. Practical factors may come into play, such as the size of any available rooms (see the location chapter), but from experience somewhere around the 20 mark is probably a realistic maximum.
Many of the techniques covered scale by simply either splitting people into more groups, or adding more to each group. Many more than five groups of four people and it’s difficult to prevent people from becoming marginalised and to allow enough time for discussion and capture of outputs. This needn’t put a ceiling of 20 people on the scale of your participatory activities.
Obviously you can repeat the workshop as many times with as many people as resources will allow, or perhaps you can think about employing technology to ‘scale up’ some of these exercises (see section on the talkies, technicolour and other technical innovations).
'That’s all very well,' you might be thinking, 'but I’ll never convince all the right people to attend a workshop to discuss project X.”
Hopefully once word spreads about just how much fun these sessions are this will get easier and easier, but if you still think this is likely to prove an uphill challenge, it’s worth stopping to reflect on the implications of this reluctance for your project as a whole.
After all, if you can’t convince Joe from IT to attend a single workshop, what might this say about his willingness to devote time and energy to your project further down the line where his input might be a critical dependency?
Be creative with your invitations or marketing for your workshop. Set the tone for the event before it even starts by being a little different. Don’t just ‘invite them to a workshop’; why not arouse their curiosity and pique their interest.