cumulus park

cumulus park

What is the best way to organize a design workshop in times of the corona lock-down?

In March, Mick Jongeling of Digital Society School (DSS) and our Theo Ploeg set out to do a day-long speculative design workshop at Cumulus Park – a collaborative innovation district in Amsterdam Zuidoost where people and organizations come together in a unique community where different disciplines, sectors and backgrounds work on issues of today and of the future.

The workshop didn’t happen. A week before, we went into lock-down.

So, what to do? Cumulus Park was eager to translate the workshop online. We were too, but we only had two weeks. We decided to do a trial workshop of two hours, use three of our design tools and do some experiments.

We used Slack to invite all participants on the forehand, give them information about Cumulus Park, DSS and speculative design so we didn’t waste precious time online sending theory and instructions. We wanted to get our participants engaged as soon as possible. In the actual workshop, we used Zoom and Mural.

It worked.

Well, not everything to be honest. Participants had a hard time subscribing to our Slack channel, so we decided to mail them the information. That didn’t work either. Some of them had crappy wifi-connections and couldn’t download our pdf’s and movies.

At the start of the workshop, not everybody was as prepared as we hoped, but with a thorough opening by Meldy van Dijken of Cumulus Park and a slightly longer introduction, we managed to get all participants on the same page. Our two-hour workshop was divided into three separate parts. In each of the participants worked in teams on a part of the assignment by using one of the tools.

Thanks to Mick’s Mural board we didn’t need much instruction time. For most of the teams, the assignments were clearly explained and after finishing before the deadline, they just went on designing. Živilė Meškauskaitė (we call her just Z) of Cumulus Park moderated the process from the background. She organised breakout rooms for all the teams and assigned Mick and Theo to teams that needed help.

It when so smooth that we went into a flow that unconsciously triggered us to stay right on schedule and finish the workshop exactly after two hours. A little bit of quality time in Zoom to discuss the outcomes with our participants would have been a good thing, but in the heat of the moment, we forgot. Fortunately, everybody is on Slack now, so there is enough opportunity to connect en discuss there.

Things we’ve learned:

  • an online workshop takes way more preparation, do it because it is worth the time,
  • do a testrun to check if your schedule works and your assumptions are right,
  • keep your participants engaged, but check in with them regularly,
  • use tools that are stable and easy to use,
  • be flexible and improvise on the spot (like in a physical workshop),
  • take some time afterwards to smoothly end the workshop.

Read another, more detailed, review that Mick Jongeling and Theo Ploeg wrote about this workshop over at Medium.

We are looking forward to the next one.


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