Dr. Judith M. Newman

Participatory workshops

Preparing and Facilitating Participatory Workshops

Published by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance

3.1 Identifying the Participants

When identifying participants, there are several issues to consider:

  • Choose the right number of people. You may want to have a small group (to provide intensive support) or a larger group (to have a wide range of inputs).
  • Find the relevant people. You may want to specify that you need participants who will be in a position to use the skills and/or train others when they return to their organisations.
  • Ensure the right combination of people. You might want to have participants with similar experiences to ensure equal input or a mixture to facilitate specific learning.
  • Aim for the right level of participation. You may want to insist that participants attend the whole workshop rather than coming and going. It should also be made clear that everyone will be required to participate.
  • Consult participants before planning the workshop. You may want to ask participants in advance about their expectations of the workshop, as well as their existing level of experience. Talking to participants before the workshop is planned helps to ensure that the content is at the right level, and that materials and activities are relevant for everyone.

3.2 Selecting a Facilitation Team

As noted before, each facilitator needs to develop a combination of basic knowledge, skills and attitudes. The team needs to be a diverse group of individuals, who all contribute their special skills. When planning, you may want to aim for the following combination of characteristics.

  • A cross-section of people. A diverse group of facilitators helps to ensure that there is a balance of perspectives and ideas. Ideally, the team will have facilitators from different social classes, professional backgrounds, languages and gender. The languages of the team members should mirror the different first languages of the participants.
  • "Hands on" experience in the subject matter. If some facilitators are experienced in the subject area, then they can help everyone to deal with practical issues, such as how to put the theory into practice at a community level.
  • Technical knowledge about the subject matter. For example, medical knowledge about HIV/AIDS treatments or legal knowledge about human rights.

3.3 Working with the Facilitation Team

It is important that a facilitation team works well together both as professionals and as a group of people. Ways to build a strong team include:

  • Get to know each other as people. You can do this by using participatory activities and tools to share information about each other. For example, by sharing timelines showing key milestones in each other's lives.
  • Get to know each other as facilitators. Share information about your skills and the areas where you would like to develop more skill. For example, by drawing selfportraits and noting facilitation strengths down one side and facilitation weaknesses down the other.
  • Get to know each other as colleagues. Different team members will have different working styles and preferences. These can be explored before facilitation starts, through activities such as "I love it when colleagues...' / I like it when colleagues...' / I hate it when colleagues...' ".
  • Develop a facilitation team contract.
  • Get to know the subject matter together. Read through the toolkit or other resources to develop a common understanding and clarify points that are unclear.
  • Assign roles and responsibilities. Decide who will do what for each day and each session. Facilitators may prefer to design and conduct sessions in pairs for support. It is useful to clarify the role of the "other" facilitators when they are not actually facilitating should they be helping group work or be available to answer questions?
  • Enable continuity. Where possible, ensure that all the facilitators can be present during the whole of the workshop.
  • Facilitation Team Contract (ground rules) A team contract can answer key questions about how facilitators want to work together, including:
    • What does the team want their workshop to be like? (For example, fun, interesting and challenging.
    • How does the team want to function together? (For example, providing mutual support, working in pairs and/or having a leader.) What principles are important for the team? (For example, being gender sensitive and respecting each other's strengths and weaknesses.
    • How does the team want to deal with problems' (For example, by being honest and discussing things as they arise.)
    • What principles are there about contributing to each other's sessions if there are potential problems' It is always useful to have a pre-arranged signal or a way of drawing each other's attention (e.g. raise your hand and the lead facilitator can decide whether or not to call on you).

3.4 Planning the Content of a Workshop

  • Workshop opening and introductions. To welcome people and enable participants and facilitators to get to know each other.
  • Housekeeping. To give information about meal times, venue facilities and expenses.
  • Expectations. To clarify participants' hopes and fears about the workshop.
  • Ground rules. Participants develop ground rules so that everyone has a shared understanding of how people will work together. They are sometimes called a "team contract" to emphasise the fact that the rules are not imposed by the facilitators.
  • Objectives and schedule. To outline the objectives, content, methods and timings of the workshop. Although presented at the beginning of the workshop for the participants to see, schedules are often flexible to allow the planned activities to be reviewed and changed to meet the needs and interests of the participants.
  • Energisers. To help participants to relax and to get to know each other, and give participants more energy and enthusiasm.
  • Buzz groups. These are small groups that can liven up the pace and gain a quick overview of participants' views.
  • Field work. To provide an opportunity to put participants' new skills into practice.
  • "Car park" flipchart. To give facilitators and participants a place to "park" issues that need to be covered at some stage, but that are not appropriate for that moment in the workshop.
  • Small and large group work. To do participatory activities, have focused discussions and/or get a broad range of inputs.
  • Presentations.To give information on a particular topic or to share experiences, etc..
  • Workshop recaps. To provide a summary (usually by participants at the beginning of each day) of what has been covered so far.
  • Facilitation meetings. To gain feedback (usually at the end of each day) about how the workshop and the facilitation have gone and to plan for the next day.
  • Follow up action plan. For participants to clarify what concrete steps they will take after the workshop in order to use the new skills and knowledge that they have gained.
  • Workshop evaluation. To enable participants to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the workshop.
  • Workshop closing. The end of workshops can be official or unofficial depending on what is appropriate [click here]. Certificates may be expected in some countries.
  • Facilitators' debrief. To discuss the overall strengths and weaknesses of the workshop and facilitation, and to identify improvements for the future. Debriefs are usually held each day as well as at the end of the workshop.

Workshop Evaluations

Workshop evaluations can be carried out by participants using questionnaires, role play, story telling, drawing or any other visual tool.Participants can choose any aspect of the workshop to evaluate. For example:

  • Facilitation.
  • Methodologies used.
  • Handouts/materials.
  • Level of participation.
  • Venue.
  • Accommodation/food.
  • Relevance of the topics covered.

3.5 Preparing for Individual Sessions

Each session is like a mini-workshop in itself and requires thought and planning. This includes the following actions:

  • Decide the subject and aim.
  • Identify the two or three key points to be discussed.
  • Decide the different parts of the session. Include an introduction to the subject of the activity and how it links with previous sessions. Select the participatory activity (tool) to be used, consider the relative importance of having time for sharing and discussion. Decide how the activity will be concluded. Also consider whether energisers, ice breakers or specific games will be necessary.
  • Allocate time for each part of the session. To ensure that learning is achieved in the best way for the subject of the session i.e. some subjects need a lot more practice and others need more time for discussion.
  • Prepare materials. Make, and organise, the materials that the participants and facilitators will need during activities.
  • Rehearsing sessions. Make sure that the instructions for small group work are clear.
  • Decide on the size and composition of the groups. Use different activities to divide people into groups.
  • Dividing People into Groups.
    There are many ways to divide participants into groups. Depending on the objective of the activity it may be necessary for people to work on their own, with people from the same organisation, or in mixed groupings.Where there is no logical grouping necessary for the activity participants can be divided by:
    • Random mix (for example, all those wearing brown shoes or have names beginning with the letters A to M).
    • Mixing levels of work experiences (for example those with lots of experience with those with little).
    • Counting 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, etc. or different fruits (e.g. apple, orange, mango) so that each group includes those that have not been sitting together.
    • Mixing gender and ages (ensure that people's ages are not discussed openly if this is inappropriate).

3.6 Making up a Workshop Schedule

Facilitators need to consider a number of factors when developing the schedule for a participatory workshop:

  • The length of the workshop. You may want to have one long workshop, or two short ones with a break in between. Breaks allow people to have time to think about or try what they have learned so far.
  • The division of each day. It is important to plan sessions around breaks and meal times. For example, in some countries three sessions are usual i.e. 1) From opening to morning break, 2) From morning break to lunch, and 3) From lunch to close of day. In other countries there may be four or more sessions. Find out what time workshop days usually end and whether participants will need to leave early on the final day to travel.
  • When different themes should be addressed. You might want to cover the most difficult ones mid-morning when participants are most energised.
  • Balancing pace and methods. You may want to have longer sessions at the beginning of the workshop (when people have the most to say) and lively, participatory ones in the middle and end (when participants might be tired). It is also worth balancing the kinds of activities used in each day to ensure variety. The session after lunch is usually the most difficult as the participants may feel sleepy after eating.
  • Keeping the momentum going. Each session should provide a logical step towards the end goal.
  • Scheduling enough time for learning. Genuine skills building during workshops takes time. You may want to schedule time to do a few sessions well rather than include too many sessions. Include some "spare time" in case sessions take longer than expected, or to address the issues in the "car park".

3.7 Dealing with Logistics

Whenever possible, someone with experience should carry out the administrative and logistical arrangements for a workshop leaving the facilitators free to focus on facilitation. However, there are a few areas where the facilitators may want to have input, including:

  • Ensuring appropriate equipment. For example, you may need large quantities of flipchart paper or an overhead projector.
  • Developing a budget and fundraising. It might be possible to get materials such as stationery or refreshments free from local companies.
  • Arranging for the workshop to be documented. If it is important to have a record of the workshop then someone needs to be identified as the documenter. Make sure that it is clear what should be included in the report before the workshop.
  • Booking a venue that:
    • Is comfortable and in a good position. For example, it may be useful to choose a location that is away from people's work place to avoid distractions. Residential workshops allow participants to focus on the workshop without travelling home. They also allow the participants to get to know each other better.
    • Meets the needs of participatory approaches. For example, you may need space for small group work or for drawing, and plenty of wall space for displaying work.
    • Can accommodate an informal layout. For example, you may want participants to sit in a circle or semi-circle rather than in formal rows. For group work you can arrange small groups of tables and chairs or participants may prefer to work on the floor. Varying the different kinds of seating arrangements and whom people sit next to can help keep the environment lively. Be aware of cultural sensitivities when you do this.

Closing a Workshop

There are many ways to close a workshop without holding an official closing ceremony. Examples include:

  • Workshop overview. Facilitators (or participants) draw a picture to represent the activities used for each session of the workshop and ask the participants to explain what was learned during the activity, and why it is important to their work.
  • Networking game. Ask the participants to form a circle and pass a ball of string from one person to another to form a web while stating how they can share information or work together in the future.
  • Learning ball game. Standing in a circle ask the participant to throw a ball to another participant and say what they have learned from that person during the workshop.
  • Imaginary presents. Divide the participants into pairs and ask them to present each other with an imaginary present which they think they would like and say a few words about working with them during the workshop. A more formal alternative is to ask the participants to present their certificates.


This is an extract from A Facilitators' Guide to Participatory Workshops with NGOs/CBOs Responding to HIV/AIDS, published by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in November 2001.

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