Ditching the flipcharts: how we are exploring online workshops

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The MAfS team often uses workshops as a tool to tap into the collective wisdom of a project team or a group of stakeholders involved in a project. While we usually rely on face to face workshops and make use of flipcharts, pens and seemingly never-ending post-its to do so, the current online mode of working required us to forgo the sweets and take a different approach. 

We wanted to run a workshop with the SEAM project team that allowed us to identify training needs based on reallife scenarios encountered by SEAtS users. The objective was to produce a list of these real-life scenarios, as well as key tasks performed by end-users. This would then allow IT Training to produce bespoke materials aligned with the needs of SEAtS users. 

What we did 

Having done some research on possible tools we could use to run the workshop online, we decided on Trello. This is a tool we use regularly with our team and our level of proficiency was the main deciding factor, as it would not require us to learn the ropes of a new tool. Trello is also highly collaborative, allowing us to mimic the action of a participant sticking a post-it on a flipchart. 

We ran the meeting on Microsoft Teams, with Damian, Project Manager, and Keren, IT Project Manager, as facilitators. The Trello board’s structure was created in advance and the participants were given a link to access it.  

During the workshop, one of the facilitators shared their screen, which provided a way of guiding the participants through the workshop. In addition, because all participants had access to the board, they could also access it on their own devices and contribute with real-time synchronisation. 

The board setup included five lists: 

  • an intro list with guidance, examples of scenarios that were previously used for testing and the current SEAtS FAQ for reference; 
  • a list of essential tasks performed by SEAtS users; 
  • a list for the most common scenarios experienced when using the software; 
  • list to gauge users’ expectations for training support once SEAtS is live, 
  • car park list for items falling outside of the remit of IT training, such as those related to policy or system functionality. 

Board structure designed for the workshop

An introduction to the format and aims of the session was instrumental in clarifying the remit of the workshop, steering the discussion and setting expectations. 

Participants were then encouraged to add items as cards, in a similar fashion to adding post-it notes to a flipchart during a face-to-face workshop. To maximise the discussionwe relied on our designated note-taker to capturkey discussion items and turning them into cards live. The labels tool was useful in categorising the cards by whether these were specific to lecturers, personal tutors, or other roles, as well as in signalling items that were crowd favourites. 

A key benefit of an in-person workshop is how the group dynamic fans the discussion and perhaps this can’t be seamlessly replicated in an online workshop. However, looking to mitigate the potential impact of the loss of face-to-face interaction on the quality of the outputs, we agreed to keep the board open for a certain period, allowing for more cards to be added. This gave the participants the opportunity to digest the workshop and even collect further insights from their teams and stakeholders. 

What we learned 

Overall, while there is still scope to refine the format, our first online workshop was a success! We certainly plan on continuing to explore the opportunities provided by our new ways of working. If you would like to learn more about how we used Trello for an online workshop, give us a shout! We are also interested in hearing about what tools you are using in your teams, what is working for you and what is not. Let us know in the comments! 

Originally posted on the MAfS blog.

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