10 Rules for a Santa Barbara Charrette (Part Two: the Final 5)


Part One is here

RULE 6: Use big paper Post-its to gather ideas.

The table conversations need to be captured first on big Post-its. Have the table choose a recorder. All comments are written down. This means that each person’s contribution is captured and made visual for the table. Do not simply write these on a computer. Sometimes the person who made the comment will want to revise this, or expand on it. Sometimes the recorder will not understand the comment, and will ask for clarification. Everyone’s voice is heard in this process. The conversation moves as fast as people can talk. When silence breaks out, the facilitator will come by to ask if the table needs another question.

RULE 7: Create narratives from the Post-its and put these online immediately.

Have a volunteer at each table (graduate students are good for this) who merges the contents of the big Post-its into a narrative. This narrative might be one paragraph, or several. I like to open up a Forum space on a Drupal site for each question, but you can capture these narratives in any way that works for you. Google documents, shared Dropbox: whatever you are most familiar with. The Post-its and these narratives are the output from the meeting. They are the gold you have woven from the ideas of your participants. It is tempting to skip the Post-it and go right to a computer. Do not allow this. The Post-it step is there to keep the conversation flowing and the let each person know their ideas are being captured.

RULE 8: Many conversations in one room.

Workshop planners often make the mistake of having a plenary room and then breakouts in separate rooms. Set up the main room in round tables; all the conversations will happen there. It will get loud, but people will also gain energy from the buzz in the room. And when they are voting with their feet, they only need to meander to another table and join the conversation.

RULE 9: No long introductions. No formal report-outs, but quick checks. No breaks, break anytime.

At the start, have each person stand and say their name. Then have them give three words that express their hopes for the day. This should take only 10 minutes.  During the course of the day, have a volunteer print out the narratives from the tables and post them on the wall near the coffee in real time. Let the display of these become an ongoing marker of the accomplishments of the workshop. Do not have any special report-out breaks, this only slows down the conversation. Do not schedule coffee or other breaks (except for lunch if you started in the morning), but encourage everyone to take a break any time they feel like it. They can get coffee, walk around the block, and do whatever they need to gather their attention back to the workshop. Once an hour, the facilitator will do a quick check-in with the room. Stop the conversations briefly to ask if there are any concerns about the process, and remind people to go look at the report-out wall.

RULE 10: Facilitator keeps the conversation going.

The Santa Barbara Charrette is a fast-moving symphony of conversations and inspirations. The key is to keep the ideas flowing, capture these as effectively as possible, and support each table with a supply of questions and a recording mechanism. The main facilitator will walk among the tables ready to supply a new question, or to gather the “hot topic” questions for other tables to answer. The facilitator will also decide when to rotate the tables, and can help keep the process on track.

At the end of the day, be prepared for the participants to be excited and exhausted. They will feel like their ideas have been heard, and their contributions have been saved. When they browse the report-out display, they will see how their table’s answer to the questions exposed different solutions from those of other tables. They may want to be alone after eight hours of constant conversation. They might be ready for some beer. At the end of the day, you will likely have a document that is hundreds of pages long, with multiple insights into the key questions that your organization faces. You will have mined the best ideas from 35 people. And these 35 people will leave the workshop satisfied that their time and their expertise has been well used and honored.

 Final Words

The Santa Barbara Charrette can be used for a wide range of planning and design problems. I’ve also done successful “mini-charrettes” with two or three tables. When you ask anyone who has participated, they will tell you how much fun they had getting their brains picked. They might also note that other workshops, where they are forced to watch PPTs in a room with 100 others, and then raise their hands one-by-one to speak, now seem boring and inefficient. This is the downside of the Santa Barbara Charrette: once you’ve gone there, you can never go back.

3 thoughts on “10 Rules for a Santa Barbara Charrette (Part Two: the Final 5)

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