Round-Table Workshops

This is a method for public participation or for groups of people who have an interest in a particular service or strategy. The Round-table Workshop method enables participants to make a full contribution to discussions on issues of shared concern and to generate ideas for action. This method works well when there is a relatively clear topic to be discussed.

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How to do it

Preparation

  • Each workshop can have a single theme or several themes as part of a strategy.
  • Each workshop may last for only half a day, but ideally will run for a longer period, with the outcomes of one feeding into the next if there is a series of workshops.
  • Every effort should be made to ensure that the people with influence and authority in local networks and organisations participate in the workshops.
  • Participants can number from 30-100 for each workshop, while a series of sessions allows as many as 500 people to participate.
  • You should consider briefing participants in advance.

Planning the Session

  • There needs to be adequate planning time at the outset. This may include discussions with other organisations about inviting people to take part.
  • Consultants are often used for the initial organisation and briefing.
  • Participants are seated in a single room at individual round tables of 7-10 people, thus avoiding hierarchies.

Facilitating the Session

The broad stages of the process are:

  • A brief introduction is given setting the context and aims of the event.
  • Specialist presentations provide technical information and case studies in order to generate new ideas and approaches.
  • Round-table discussions generate ideas, which are recorded on paper or tape.
  • Each table will need a convenor and a reporter.
  • There could be an opportunity for questions and answers before the concluding session during which the groups report their findings.

Immediately after the Session

  • A draft of the outcomes is produced and circulated for comment.

Pros

  • This method draws on a wide range of opinions.
  • With participants drawn from a wide range of backgrounds, relationships can be built between different groups and sectors.

Cons

  • There is a risk that the workshop, or some of the tables, can become dominated by particular issues.
  • It is not always easy to collate, report on and draw conclusions from a wide range of opinion.

Resources

  • Staff time
  • Venue and catering
  • Reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses of lay participants.

Top Tips

  • Consider having each workshop chaired by someone in a position of influence.
  • The table chairpersons and reporters could be from other bodies. This would show an awareness of the range of stakeholders.
  • Specialist contributors can bring visual and verbal examples of similar exercises for the purpose of stimulating creative thinking.

Sources and Further Information

Some of this information was first published by Link opens in a new windowThe Aspen Institute.