To report back or not to report back? That is the question

When you are running workshops with small numbers of people it’s relatively easy to make sure everyone hears what others are learning, appreciates the ideas they are generating and grasps the suggestions they are making. But with larger groups this becomes much more difficult. Many event organisers avoid the issue and hope for the best that learning is shared “by osmosis” or by changing the composition of groups periodically throughout the event. But there is a better way…..

At its simplest it is a question of numbers and time. With a group of 100, even if people are sitting in tables of ten and agree with their table group what they want to share with the rest of the participants, hearing from ten tables will take ages – and with the best will in the world people will lose interest.

One way round this is to tell the groups that only two or three groups can report back for each exercise or discussion but this way a lot of richness is lost.

We prefer to get a more creative. Here are some of the ways we do that:

Market stalls

Each group produces a flipchart of their discussions. At its simplest it can be a bullet point list but often drawings or collage can stimulate more creativity and debate.

When completed the flipcharts are put on the walls around the room and two or three people from each group stay with their group flipchart whist the others go around the room like a marketplace – visiting the other flipcharts, asking questions and hearing about other groups’ discussions. The groups then reconvene and share what they have learned – both from visiting other groups and from the questions and discussions that took place at their own group’s “market stall”.

Social media

Most social media platforms enable chatting. Chose the best one for your group – one they are most likely to be familiar with. People can post during their discussions or afterwards.

Once the exercise or discussion is over, ask each table to divide into two groups. One group stays at the table and the other group splits out and visits tables whose posts were of interest to find out more. Then swap the groups so the people who were visiting other tables come back and “represent” the table while their “other halves” have time to do their visiting.

Another networked option is to use a shared area and ask groups to upload short documents in whatever format you have agreed – so again you can stick to more simple written documents and bullet points or get more creative. This can work well although the social media option is more fluid and spontaneous.

There are many other ways of enabling sharing among large groups but this give a flavour of the possibilities.