All movies start with a storyboard of some description. Without it the sets couldn’t be made, the cameras couldn’t be placed and the actors wouldn’t know what was expected of them.
But within this basic necessity lies a range of possible approaches: stretching from the perfection of a Stanley Kubrick film where not even the merest deviation from the script or direction is permitted to the improvisation of Mike Leigh with the actors left to interpret and play the scene virtually ‘off the cuff’.
In many respects participatory workshops tend to lend themselves more to the latter end of the spectrum. Yes it is important to know the ground you think you want to cover and to have some notion of the exercises you think you will employ to get there, but given the freedom (and this is precisely what we want to give them) human beings are fiendishly unpredictable.
Maybe a carefully planned exercise is just not engaging them, in which case stop! Don’t flog it for the sake of it, recognise the signs and move on: change the pace and direction. Throw in an ‘energiser’ activity to get the creative juices flowing again. Don’t just stick to the script regardless.
Or, on a more positive note, if one of your exercises hits a rich seam of interest and flings the discussion off in an entirely different (but equally valid) direction to the one you were expecting don’t squash the enthusiasm and stop the good ideas just in order to accommodate the next activity you had planned. Stop. Think how you might best keep the momentum going and go with the flow!
Any pre-arranged agenda should exist as a forgiving guide, not an unyielding master!
We now tend to view the participatory techniques we have learned as a ‘toolbox’ that we can dip into whenever we need. Sometimes you know exactly which tool you need for the job in hand. Other times it maybe more a process of trial and error. “Spanner too small? Let’s try an adjustable one instead”. “Graffiti Wall not working? Why not try an H-form?”
Rather than give everyone an agenda at the outset, why not agree/share a set of ‘objectives’ for the session? After all, it doesn’t matter how you get there – so long as you do. It may be worth revisiting these objectives periodically (before stopping for breaks/lunch for example) just to check that you are all still happy with them.
It’s entirely possible that the results of some of your discussions may well have shifted your thinking, or challenged the assumptions on which they were originally based.