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.

10 Rules for a Santa Barbara Charrette (Part One: the First 5)

Building maximum engagement into your workshop

Some years ago I organized a workshop to brainstorm how ocean scientists could find new research and communication capabilities through the use of social networking and social media. With funding from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, a team based at UC Santa Barbara was looking to create the next generation of internet-facilitated science. We called the project DigitalOcean. But first we needed to gather as many ideas as we could from thought leaders in a wide range of domains. We needed to have confidence that our plans were well scoped and in the forefront of emerging opportunities.

Participants came from across the US to help the DigitalOcean (DO) team envision this new suite of tools for ocean science. To support the discussion, I looked at a wide range of meeting types, and focused, finally, on an open meeting-style workshop, with a clear set of rules. For an entire day, thirty participants, split into groups of 6-7, discussed a range of issues and provided the DO team with a broad picture of how to move ahead.

I chose the term “charrette” to describe the event in part because of my experience in architecture charrettes at UC Los Angeles, and in part because of design outcomes we desired matched the intensely reflective process that a charrette produces.

In subsequent years, I’ve used the Santa Barbara Charrette model a number of times, and each time I’ve received the same feedback. It goes something like this: “I’ve just worked harder and I’ve also had more fun than I have ever experienced before at any workshop.” At the end, people actually complain of “brain fatigue,” a condition we help cure with beer.

If you are interested in doing your own Santa Barbara Charrette, you follow these 10 rules (The first 5 are here, the next will be in the next blog):

RULE 1: Pick a place that’s right in town and give them dinner/lunch

Before the charrette starts, make sure you feed to participants. Pick a downtown hotel near cafes and bars. Never do this at an airport hotel. If your charrette starts after lunch, feed them a good lunch first. If your charrette starts in the morning, feed them dinner the previous night. But do not try to gather them for breakfast before the charrette. People have a variety of breakfast desires. Have a table with coffee and snacks in the room.

 RULE 2: The ideas need to travel at the speed of conversation. No more than 35/36 people. Small groups all day.

The charrette planning should focus on getting a wide spread of expertise in the room, but no more than about 35 people (7 tables of five, or 5 tables of 7, or 6 tables of 6). The whole day will be used to promote critical conversations at these tables. As soon as the conversation lags at a table, give it something new to do (e.g., another question [see #4 below]).

RULE 3: Open with a blue sky session, get the creative juices going.

Start the conversations with a real “blue-sky” design problem. Let everyone add their fantasy to the solution of a problem. Give them paper and markers, scissors and glue. Give them props and tape. This is the only session where there is a brief report out. Let the groups compete for the most fantastic solution. Have them map their ideas on big Post-its and then stick these on the walls of the room. This beginning session is designed to help the group achieve an open conversational mode of interaction.

RULE 4: Give them real questions to answer, and let them add to these.

After the blue-sky exercise, each table is given a question to tackle (not necessarily the same question, although most tables might end up answering every question). In the weeks before the charrette, spend real time coming up with 10-12 key questions. Map out how the answers to these add up to a larger picture. Rank these questions as “central” or “if time allows”.  Create some colored sheets of paper that say “Hot Topic” on them. Give each table a few and encourage people to create their own question. Give these questions to OTHER TABLES. Never let someone answer their own question. Some questions will be better answered by tables with specific expertise, others by tables of mixed expertise (see below). This rule was provided by Susan Colitan, Vice President of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. The better the questions the more knowledge you will extract from the workshop!

RULE 5:  Break up groups 2-3 times over the course of the day and vote with your feet.

Give each member a name tag (first NAME on both sides). This tag should also tell them which table at which to sit (designated by color, number, animal, etc.). You might want to start by mixing up the expertise at each table. For example the COLOR designated tables might include a technical expert, a managerial expert, some content domain specialists, and others. After a couple hours, have everyone switch to the NUMBER table, which might be grouped by expertise. Later, they might switch to an ANIMAL table, etc. At the end of the day have a final question back at the original table. At any time anyone can move to a different table. This is called “voting with your feet.” Announce this at the beginning and also every time your swap out table designations.

The next 5 rules will be found here: Last 5 rules for a Santa Barbara Charrette.