Executive Education Training

Planning and running a successful deliberative workshop
with small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs)

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. The production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

Welcome! In this section we explain what this training material covers, who it is aimed at and how to use it.
What this material covers
This document will tell you all you need to know about planning for and running a successful deliberative workshop with small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
What do we mean by ‘deliberative’? It simply means considered, thoughtful discussion. So a deliberative workshop is one where the participants don’t just listen, they take part, by sharing and discussing ideas and views.
Who is it aimed at?
The material is aimed at organisations that support SMEs, often referred to as intermediary organisations. There are many different types of intermediary, including trade bodies, membership organisations, business development hubs and municipalities. The training is specifically aimed at people in a director or managerial position. So, for example, you may be a policy director, a membership manager or a consultant, and you work with SMEs.
The material will also be of interest to anyone involved in subjects such as business communication, participation, collaborative problem-solving and group facilitation.
How to use this document
The material is completely self-directed. We know you will be very busy, so the content is divided up into a number of sections. You can read through the sections at your own pace and in a way that suits you. The sections are short and practical. They will help you to get what you need quickly.

The material has been designed to help someone who is thinking about engaging with their SMEs in a collaborative way for the first time and so, depending on your level of experience, you may wish to skip some of the sections as they will be telling you things you already know. For example, if you are experienced at communicating with your SMEs and just want to learn about planning and running a workshop, then you can just focus on the sections about the workshop.
Who developed this course?
This material was put together by experts in participation and business communication. It draws on the learning from a series of practical case studies with SMEs and intermediary organisations from five different European countries, part of a project funded by the European Commission. You can read more about the authors and the project case studies here.

The theory bit
Deliberative approaches have been used for many years in the field of democratic participation, where government bodies seek to engage with citizens outside of the normal election cycles. A wide range of techniques have been developed, to suit a whole range of circumstances, for example citizen juries, citizen assemblies, participatory budgeting, world café events, focus groups, etc. Further information about the range of techniques can be found at http://participationcompass.org/ and at http://ncdd.org/
Deliberation is where people come together to learn, discuss and work out solutions together. It is often useful where the issue is complex or would benefit from bringing together different ideas and points of view. It provides opportunities to see something from another perspective or to develop a consensus or collective standpoint.

Businesses, including SMEs, face many different challenges. Some of these challenges (for example, dealing with energy costs or developing more sustainable supply chains) will be easier to solve if SMEs collaborate together, rather than trying to work alone. Not everything is going to suit a deliberative approach, but if collaboration is likely to help, then this is one way of approaching that collaboration.
Before the workshop
A lot of things need to be taken into account to prepare for and deliver a successful deliberative engagement workshop. When considering what has to be done it is helpful to think about the task in terms of the ‘3Ps’ of event planning: purpose, planning and promotion. Each of these three elements is now discussed in more detail.
Before committing to any type of deliberative engagement activity it is necessary to step back and be clear about the event’s purpose. This understanding is especially important when you come to describe what is planned to colleagues and other interested parties. In this context, being able to set realistic expectations about the event and its outcomes is crucial.

A good starting point to clarify your thoughts is to consider the strategic rationale driving the event. Why are you running this event rather than something else? What do you hope to achieve? What objectives are you working towards? For example, one aim of deliberative engagement is to gain a better understanding of the priorities and concerns of other groups and individuals by providing opportunities for involvement and dialogue. Such conversations often lead to new ideas, innovations and strategies for action.

Being clear about your purpose, before you start planning and promoting your event, is a critical first step.
Planning the event

In planning a workshop, there are a number of important issues that you need to consider. The examples here are taken from the UK Public Relations Consultants Association’s (PRCA) guide to event management.
Time and money

When planning the event the first issue to think about is the resources you’ll require to deliver it. These are likely to include the following:
Time: consider all of the aspects you will need to spend time on in order to organise a successful event. These include communicating with potential participants, promoting the event, liaising with suppliers, attending planning meetings, managing the budget and designing the format.

Office expenses: e-mails, telephone calls, photocopying, deliveries and travel costs.
Third party costs: these may include expenditure such as venue hire, catering, design and print, as well as photography and video.

It is important to select an easily accessible venue. The location should be chosen based on its suitability to the greatest number of attendees. If possible, car parking and public transport hubs (such as railway stations and metro stops) should be no further than a ten minutes walk away.

Take into consideration lighting, heating, air-conditioning, décor and furnishing. The participants will be spending a significant amount of time in the room so they need to be comfortable. Will the venue be accessible for disabled participants? Also, ask yourself whether the room can effectively accommodate the layout and format you need for the event?

It is essential you consider all of the factors that may impact on the number of people attending the event. These factors include school holidays and clashes with other industry or sector events. With SMEs, you are likely to find that they will not want to commit to a whole-day event. Aim for your workshop to be no more than 2 to 3 hours long. Think about the time of day to hold it - will your participants prefer an evening event?
Managing the event as a small project

As part of the overall planning process, you will find it helpful to think about the event as a small project and manage it accordingly. For example, you shoulddraw up a timeline which sets outs the key milestones and other important dates leading up to the workshop. Allocate all responsibilities and the dates by which they must be completed, then organise regular update meetings to check everything is on track and the budget is being adhered to.

Consider using a delegate management system such as Eventbrite. These software packages are free to use for free events and have a range of useful features. For example, you can record who has attended (including their job title and other affiliations) and contact all attendees simultaneously via e-mail.

Consider whether you would like to provide participants with a delegate pack. This might include briefing material about your organisation, the issue under consideration and details of the people attending the event.

Giving people a name badge will help with the networking aspects of the event. Make sure you have some blank badges in case people turn up unexpectedly.
Keeping in touch

Brief the people remaining in the office, including on reception, about the details of the event (date, time, location and key contacts) in case you have any last minute queries or cancellations.

As well as your mobile number make sure your office has a landline contact number for you - don’t assume you will be able to get a network signal or that your phone will always be switched on. Remember to put on an ‘out of office’ auto reply on your e-mail with all of your contact details.
Selecting a Facilitator and Designing the Workshop

A deliberative workshop will need to be facilitated, and engaging an experienced facilitator will be critical to the success of your workshop. A facilitator is someone who leads and supports an event without dictating the nature of the discussion or outcomes. Their role is to help groups work through the issues, ensure everyone has an opportunity to participate in discussions, keep to time and keep a focus on the purpose and objectives of the event.

You will need to have an experienced facilitator for your event. This may be someone from your own organisation, or you could engage an independent facilitator. If you anticipate that some of the discussions are going to be confrontational or difficult, then having an independent facilitator might be helpful. A good place to start if you are looking for an external facilitator is on the International Association of Facilitators website.
Thinking about the deliberative technique

In designing the workshop, you and your facilitator will need to think about the sort of technique to use for the deliberation, i.e. the part of the workshop where participants will be discussing issues together. Your facilitator should be able to help you decide what approach is best. Remember to bear in mind the objectives for your workshop and the people who will be participating.You will already have decided why you are holding this event and what you want to get out of it. So make sure that your event design will suit your objectives and that it will work for the people taking part.This is a very important point to bear in mind.

It is likely that the SMEs (and you!) will be unfamiliar with this way of working. If that’s the case then you will find that using a simple technique is probably the best approach. Keeping things simple will also help with timings, given the likelihood that the workshop will not be very long.

There are a number of ‘off-the-shelf’ deliberative techniques that you can choose from, and you can read about these in Appendix Two. You could adapt one of these to suit your circumstances. Or you could design your own approach, with advice from your facilitator.

To give you an example, here is an outline of one possible way of structuring your workshop:

  • Welcome, introductions and ‘ice-breaker’
  • Short session to set the scene and remind people what the workshop is aiming to cover, for example “how can SMEs save money on their energy costs?”. You might want to use this session to give participants key information they will need to have a productive discussion, e.g. a short presentation.
  • Break up into smaller groups (say 6 – 8 people in each group) to discuss the question. Make sure people are clear about the task.
  • Bring everyone back together to share ideas from the small groups
  • Clarify next steps after the workshop.

This is just an example of an outline structure that you could use. There are lots of different ways you can organise the workshop and, as mentioned above, there are lots of different techniques that you can use or adapt. The important thing to remember is: design your workshop to meet your event objectives. Don’t just use a standard format and hope that it will work – if it doesn’t then you’ve wasted your time and your participants time.

Remember, you will be working with an experienced facilitator, so draw on their experience when you design the workshop.

Whatever approach you use, you will find it helpful to keep in mind these general guidelines for good deliberation:

  • The event should make a difference (in other words, it should have some tangible outcome or impact)
  • Tailor it to the circumstances and design it to meet your aims and objectives
  • Involve the right number, and the right type, of people
  • Run the event with integrity and openness
  • Treat participants with respect and value their contribution
  • Give priority to participants’ discussion, learning and feedback
  • Review and evaluate the event so that you can improve practice,
  • Keep participants informed about the outcomes.

Effectively promoting the event is a crucial aspect of the planning process and warrants special consideration. When thinking about the event ask yourself the following question:

Are people interested in the issue being discussed?
One of the biggest challenges in the promotion phase is persuading people to attend. Potential participants are likely to be concerned with many issues - and what’s important to you as an organisation might be less important to an SME. People therefore need to be presented with a compelling reason to come along.

To decide whether the event has the potential to attract the people you want, it is helpful to consider three other questions:

1. Will what you want to discuss stand out?
People working in SMEs are bombarded with information on a daily basis. The subject to be tackled at the event therefore needs to capture their attention and be something they regard as important. Are there any particular challenges related to the issue which give it particular traction amongst the SMEs you are targeting? If you are unsure about the salience of the issue it is helpful to discuss informally what you have in mind with a couple of potential participants. These conversations may also generate other insights which can help to inform the planning and preparation phase.

2. Is it an issue SMEs will want to consider at this precise moment?
The subject of the event may be important, but is it an issue SMEs will want to discuss at the time you are planning the event? SMEs may have other priorities so you need to communicate clearly why hosting the event at a particular time is important. The reason for the timing could relate to the introduction of new government legislation, the publication of fresh research, or the identification of an emerging and significant challenge that will impact on SMEs.

3. Do you have the authority or appropriate knowledge to engage on this issue?
What do potential participants already know about your organisation? Will they understand why you are involved in a discussion of this issue? Is the stake you have in the issue clear to them? Is your organisation perceived to have credibility and influence in this area? Understanding how others see you in relation to the issue is important. It is another factor which will guide whether they decide to attend the event, or not. It may be appropriate for you to involve a respected third-party who can help to add credibility, e.g. a University or a leading company in theare you want to cover. You may also want to make use of other organisations’ networks in order to reach out to SMEs, particularly if you want to engage SMEs who don’t know you well or those who are harder to reach.
How should people be invited?
In our experience the best form of communication to invite SME representatives to an event of this type is a personalised e-mail or a telephone call to a named recipient. This approach will ensure the e-mail or callgoes to the right person and is seen as a bespoke rather than impersonal form of communication. If you do not already have a database of potential participants and their contact details you need to compile one.

The invitation e-mail should also be sent out at least six weeks before the event is planned to take place.

Below is an example of an invitation e-mail used successfully by an intermediary to invite SMEs to an event designed to explore the impact of fuel poverty:
Dear (name of potential participant),

I am writing to inform you of an innovative event that is being hosted by (name of SME intermediary) on the (date) at (venue).

Recent research conducted with our stakeholders highlights the need for organisations with an interest in fuel poverty to adopt a more “joined-up” approach to the issue.

Such collaboration is essential to maximise the knowledge and funding which already exists to tackle this problem, as well as being important for the development of effective strategies in the future.

The specific purpose of the event will be to consider the following question: how can we get organisations to work together to reduce fuel poverty in the north of England?
. . .
Given this is a deceptively difficult question to answer, we have tried to think creatively about how we might tackle it.

As result, we have created an event that they will apply a range of innovative techniques designed to encourage collaborative problem solving amongst those taking part.

I wondered whether you, or a nominated colleague, might be interested in participating in this important and stimulating event.

Doors will open at (time) for registration, coffee and pastries in (room and building). The event will formally start at (time) and is due to finish at (time). If you would like any further details please e-mail (contact details of event co-ordinator).

Kind regards,
Name of the intermediary representative

Key points to note about the invitation e-mail:
  • It frames the purpose of the event as a short strategic question: how can we get organisations to work together to reduce fuel poverty in the north of England? Adopting this approach helps to ensure the event’s essence is communicated in a clear and concise manner. The objective is to put into plain language what the event aims to do.
  • The e-mail contains a reference to the availability of new stakeholder research, providing the rationale for the event happening at the time set by the intermediary.
  • A conscious effort has been made to avoid cluttering the e-mail with too much detail. This can be provided once an SME representative confirms their acceptance. The purpose of the first e-mail is instead to stimulate interest and set out essential information such as time, date and location.
Following-up the first e-mail
  • SMEs responding positively to the invitation should immediately be sent an acknowledgement e-mail which contains additional information. This might include a location map for the venue with directions, advice on public transportation and car parking (if relevant), as well as a request for any specific dietary requirements if catering is to be provided.You may wish at this stage to include some pre-event reading or background information, but assume that not everyone will read this before the event, so make sure that you have sufficient time in the workshop to give people the essential information they need to have for a productive discussion.
  • A week before the event SMEs intending to participate should be sent another e-mail which confirms their attendance and reminds them of all relevant event details.
  • Those SMEs who not reply to the first e-mail should be sent a reminder e-mail within a couple of weeks or followed up with a telephone call. SME leaders are often busy and may not have got around to replying, or even seeing, the first email. So make the effort to reach out to them again. If they do not reply to this second invitation it is sensible to assume they are not interested in participating in the event!
The Day Before
Reconfirm attendees and update the delegate list.
Double check your requirements and timings with the venue event manager.
Have a final pre-event briefing with the team involved in the event. It is important everyone knows what is expected of them.
If you are having them, ensure your delegate packs are completed.
The Day of The Event
If you didn’t have access the day before, set up the room and reception (lay out name badges in alphabetical order and ensure the delegate packs are complete).

Do a tour of the venue - check emergency exits, signage, branding, AV equipment, car parking, toilets and cloakrooms.

Have at least one person in the main room to ‘meet and greet’ people as they arrive.

Check the local travel news to see if people might be delayed when travelling to the venue.
General tips for facilitators
You will already have involved your facilitator in the pre-event planning and design, but you should make sure they are thoroughly briefed about the event, what you hope to get out of it, who is attending, and any anticipated difficulties. If your facilitator is experienced (and you should definitely be engaging an experienced facilitator) then they will probably not need to read these tips. But we’ve included them here as some people may still find them useful.

When facilitating events of this type it useful to keep in mind some simple rules which generally apply to speaking in public:

Body language
Try and use positive body language when facilitating the group. For example, stand and face the participants with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. When people are talking and asking questions maintain eye contact with them to show you are interested in what is being said. In response to particular points it also helpful to use simple affirmative movements such as smiling or nodding your head. Responding in this way keeps you connected to the group. This should give you a better sense of how people feel about the content of the discussion, as well as the format of the event. Avoid folding your arms (a defensive gesture) and mannerisms which could be distracting to the audience, such as putting your hands near to your mouth. To prepare for the event practice what you are going to say in front of a mirror so you feel comfortable with how you will present yourself to others.
How do you maintain eye contact with people at the event?
  • Choose a person sitting at the extreme right of the group and a person at the extreme left.
  • Choose a person in the centre of the group.
  • Move your eyes regularly from person to person, among your chosen three people. You will have to move your head to do this.
  • This will help to ensure every member of the audience will feel you are looking at them.
  • Don’t fix on any one person for too long. If you notice someone looking away or nodding, you are probably focusing too much on him or her.
Make sure the words you use are clear and understood by the people at the event. Be simpler in your language than you think is strictly necessary. Avoid jargon and abbreviations (unless it is a technical audience). Also, everyone likes stories; a main point can be made most effectively by giving an example from your experience.

Beware of humour, which might not be appreciated by all of your audience. If you have a joke you think might offend one person in the room don’t tell it. Rarely is anyone other than a professional comedian good at being funny in public. Never use bad language no matter how informal the event and be careful of slang.
Listen to yourself. Above all you must be loud enough to be heard. Try to avoid ‘errs’, ‘ums’ and repetitive words.
Visual Aids
People receive three quarters of their information visually. To set the scene for the event it might therefore be appropriate to use visual aids to support what you have to say: it is far more likely to be remembered.

PowerPoint is a visual aid that is often used to support event facilitators, however you should use it to illustrate and summarise the main points rather than reading out the slides word-for-word. Remember that it is you who is facilitating, not the software.

Any slide should only have a very limited number of bullet points (six at most) to ensure the event participants can digest the information and are not distracted from what you are saying. Also, the text for each bullet point should fit on one line of the slide.

Images and photography can also help people understand the points you are making in an emotive way. If, for example, your event is focussing on the impact of road haulage on carbon emissions, an image of a congested motorway will have a stronger impact than just talking. It brings the subject to life.

Here are some top tips from Microsoft about using PowerPoint:

1. You must also deliver compelling material
If you create some strong PowerPoint slides to help with the facilitation make sure your spoken remarks are no less engaging. PowerPoint does not give presentations - PowerPoint makes slides.

2. Keep it simple
Do you really need to have everything up on screen?
3. Minimise numbers in slides
If you want to emphasise a statistic consider using a graphic or image to convey the point.
4. Don’t parrot PowerPoint
PowerPoint works best with spoken remarks that augment and discuss, rather than mimic, what’s on the screen.

5. Time your remarks
A well-orchestrated PowerPoint presentation brings up a new slide, gives the audience a chance to read and digest it, then follows up with remarks that broaden and amplify what’s on the screen.

6. Use vibrant colours
A striking contrast between words, graphics and the background can be effective in conveying both a message and an emotion, but be careful not to go too far.
7. Import other images and graphics
Use outside images and graphics for variety and visual appeal.
8. Edit ruthlessly before facilitating
If something is unappealing, distracting or confusing, take it out.
However well the event might be going, if it goes on too long you run the risk of people becoming bored. Stick to the time laid down (and it is always better to finish slightly early than over run). Adhere to your event plan for every session and don’t be tempted to digress. The people at the event are busy and will expect you to deliver the event to schedule.
Never read word-for-word from a script: the chances are that you’ll lose your place and pace. Revise and practice what you want to say as a facilitator until you know it thoroughly. If you think you will forget important information prepare cue cards which contain key words and phrases to prompt you. Number the cards so you make the points in the right order. This also makes them much easier to get back in order if you happen to drop them! If possible, visit the event venue in advance to familiarise yourself with the room and to ensure you know how the audio-visual equipment works.
Take the opportunity to debrief yourself the same day about how you facilitated the group. While the experience is still fresh in your mind write down the three best aspects of your performance and three things which you could improve. This note should then be the first thing you look at the next time you need to facilitate a deliberative event.
Evaluation will help you to assess the effectiveness of your workshop, particularly if this is the first time you have run this sort of event. You will want to learn about what went well and what didn’t work so well, so that you can improve your event design. It can also help you with making a subsequent business case for resources.

It is important that you think well in advance about how you are going to evaluate the workshop – don’t just improvise this on the day. You may find it helpful to prepare a simple evaluation plan.

Decide how you are going to do the evaluation, for example are you going to have feedback forms for participants to fill out or are you going to run some post-event interviews with participants, or perhaps both?

You may find it helpful, depending on the circumstances, for the evaluation to be carried out by somebody who is not directly involved in the workshop. This can be usefulif you need to make a business case for continued investment in using these sorts of workshops.

Feedback forms should be short enough to encourage completion by participants, but long enough to give you some meaningful feedback about the event. Use both closed and open questions. A closed question is one that requires a simple yes or no response, or where the person ticks a box on a scale of options (For example, participants are invited to respond to the statement “I would recommend this workshop to a colleague” with the options being Strongly Agree, Agree, Neither Agree/Disagree, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree). Closed questions are quick to complete.

It’s good practice to give people the option of saying “I don’t know” or “Not applicable” to any closed question you ask them on an evaluation form.

Some examples of evaluation questions you could use are in Appendix Three. But remember, these are just examples - you will need to tailor the questions to suit your event.

On their own, closed questions may not give you enough feedback about the workshop, so it’s also useful to have a few open questions, where people can add some free text to explain more about their experiences of the workshop. This will give you richer feedback than just the simple yes or no answers. An example of an open question would be “Please say what you liked most about today’s workshop”.

Remember: make sure the participants fill out the feedback form before they leave the workshop. If they don’t it is very unlikely that you will ever see their form again!
After the workshop
Running a successful deliberative engagement event depends as much on what happens after the event as what happens before.

There are a number of actions that will need to be taken once the event has concluded:

Follow up
When you are planning your workshop, you should think ahead to what sort of outputs you will need. Participants should be leaving the workshop with a sense of what will be happening next. In some cases this may be actions that were agreed at the workshop. It may be that some sort of written report or blog will be shared with participants afterwards. It all depends on the purpose of your workshop.
SME Networks
It may be that one of the reasons you are working with your SMES in this way is to generate an SME network that can continue the collaborative and problem-solving approach that you began during the workshop.

It may also be that one deliberative workshop is insufficient to cover the ground required, particularly when tackling complex problems. So you may want to run a follow-up workshop to continue the collaboration.