[007] How to design and run workshops that make a real difference

[007] How to design and run workshops that make a real difference

What a cracking week!

I have just experienced the most amazing week at Northumbrian Water Group’s Innovation Festival 2018. The Festival is in its second year and is a truly unique event, taking 13 societal and environmental problems and applying design thinking techniques to try to solve them in five action-packed days. The focus on innovation was mashed up with the feeling of a summer festival, featuring a marquee village and fun events every evening to engage various groups in the North East of England.

The festival will lead to some real-world innovative solutions and changes that can be brought to life – like the Newcastle Moss Tree, the water refill campaign and artificial intelligence projects – all of which came out of the 2017 event and are making a real difference to the world right now.

This year the brilliant team of experts got stuck into some more big societal and environmental questions, and my team and I were very proud to join with Waterwise to host a design sprint called Every Drop Counts, focused on how and why we need to save water.


Delegates participating in design sprint, run by the Idea Time team from The Big Bang Partnership Ltd.

Every Drop Counts

The average person in the UK currently uses around 140 litres water each day in their homes. However, there is no such thing as the ‘average’ person, because we all value and use water differently. So engaging everybody in saving water is a huge challenge. The team at my company, The Big Bang Partnership, together with team from Waterwise, the NWG water efficiency and customer teams, led the discussion on how we can deliver behaviour change at scale, be ambitious about achieving reductions in water use, create a catalyst for change and really make sure that Every Drop Counts.

Around 55-60 people participated in our design sprint each day for 3 days, plus we had a fourth day for preparing and delivering our pitch to over 800 people.


every drop counts - delegates solving problems in design sprint at innovation festival

What is a ‘Design Sprint’?

A design sprint is a really interactive workshop process that takes a customer-focused approach to answering key challenges by generating ideas, developing and prototyping solutions, and testing them with customers. It’s called a design sprint because the approaches used for problem-solving are based on those that product and service designers apply to understand what users want, and to experiment, sketch and prototype potential solutions for testing.

Great solutions

At the end of our sprint we came out with these solutions that were ‘elevator pitched’ to over 800 people, and that we are now working to take forward as a collective workshop team:

  • A national campaign to make people aware of the #LeakyLoo issue. Did you know that an estimated £1.2m of customers’ money per day is wasted in this country due to leaky loos?
  • A trading scheme to incentivise people to save water, save money and support their local, national and global communities.
  • Creative materials, online resources, real experiences and gamification aligned to the school curriculum at all stages of education to raise awareness of the social, economic and environmental value of water, and to encourage water saving from a young age.

One of the many things that I loved about our sprint is the commitment of the people involved. Everyone was really keen to set up a WhatsApp group to keep in contact and progress our actions beyond the event itself, and it’s already very active.

If you’re passionate about making a difference and would like to get involved as we progress these initiatives, do please get in contact with me at jo@ideatime.co.uk to get in the loop. You can also learn more about the sprint itself by watching our Every Drop Counts video.


Great experience

As well as being very outcome-focused, we were mindful that we wanted to create an amazing, enjoyable and really productive experience for all the 60 diverse delegates who gave up their time over the 3 days to contribute.

Just a few of the very many comments from the participants on their experience include:

“We all worked so hard. I was so impressed with everyone and how it was.”

“Really great to work with such a diverse and positive group of people.”

“It was amazing, and I got so much out of it personally and for our business.”

“Thank you for making the sprint work so well this week.”


So, we started with a big question, a room full of people from diverse backgrounds, many of whom had never met each other before, and three days. How did we achieve such a great result and positive delegate experience?

Through lots of detailed attention, heaps of prep, planning, facilitation expertise and support, plus inviting fantastic people to attend, and a whole series of micro-actions to achieve our big picture aspirations. I’ve summarised the key overall success factors as I see them here, though, because I think they apply to any innovation event, team awayday or other sort of workshop.


How to run a successful away day- engaged delegates

Key Success Factors

  1. Clear mission with meaning

We had a clear mission: to find ways to reduce average water consumption in this country from 140 litres per person to 110 litres per person. This gave everyone a focus and clear goal, and also helped us prioritise. For example, looking at loos and showers alone covers approximately 50% of water usage in most households in the UK.

  1. Collaboration

Our mission was what innovators call a ‘messy’ or ‘wicked’ challenge. This means that it is complex, multi-faceted and has no single clear or correct solution.

To tackle this sort of challenge, we needed excellent collaboration both before, during and after the event.

Before the event Northumbrian Water Group, Waterwise and The Big Bang Partnership worked together on the invitation list and the potential lightning speakers for the event. (A lightning speaker is one who delivers insightful new information in a high-impact, time-efficient way). We also invited 5 customers to join us for the three days.

We invested workshop time in short, effective activities that broke the ice, and helped people to get to know something about each other pretty quickly. One of my personal favourites is our ‘human bingo’ introduction game.

We designed discussions and hands-on co-creation activities specifically to generate high levels of collaboration between the delegates. These activities included, amongst many others:

  • Bug listing
  • Customer journey visualisation, with magazine image cutting and sticking
  • Idea clustering
  • The ‘yes, and…’ technique
  • Random stimulus

We are now in the process of keeping that collaboration going post-event with our Every Drop Counts  WhatsApp group and social media forums.

  1. Quality of stimulus

Ideas are conceived in our minds. They happen when two thoughts connect for the very first time. To have good, relevant ideas we need to nourish our minds with good, relevant insights and information.  If we put rubbish in, we get rubbish out, and vice versa. So we peppered our design sprint with timely lightning speakers on a rich and diverse range of connected subjects. Some examples include:

  • Corporate Culture on behavioural science and the ‘human operating system’
  • Dawson, Head of Geography at a local school
  • Methven, who make showerheads that are beautifully designed, inexpensive and water-saving
  • AgilityEco, on fuel and water efficiency for money saving
  • Kim Brien, who is a high-flying tech expert from Gartner with a personal passion for magic. Kim inspired us with his session on Innovation & Magic.

The quality of stimulus went well beyond information. The diversity of delegates made the richness of discussion very special indeed, and the festival atmosphere helped to create a sense of community and relaxed productivity that provided a different sort of positive stimulus.

Finally, the creative techniques and facilitation approaches were designed specifically to help participants to look at the challenge in new ways. We created the storyboard for the three days as a journey, we kept things moving, and we had fun on the way. Movement and fun are great for preventing flagging energy!

  1. Flexibility

We began with a storyboard of activities, lightning speakers and  discussion points, but this was just a starting point. For a great event that achieves the mission set, sticking rigidly to a single plan is usually not the way to go. Excellent facilitation is more jazz than following a score, and this becomes more and more the case the further you go into the event. If you’re running a design sprint, staying closely in touch with the participants’ thoughts and being able to think on your feet and adapt are essential if you want to achieve excellent outcomes together.

If you’d like to learn more about how to run your own workshop, download my free DIY Away Day Toolkit, available here.

It’s packed with advice, interactive tools and creative techniques, and even has an outline agenda that you can adapt for own event.

Or if you have a really important outcome that you want to achieve by involving other people, please get in touch with me direct at jo@ideatime.co.uk, or phone +44 7879 631270 to book in a free discovery call. We can talk through your aspirations and explore how I can help by designing and leading your event to meet your specific objectives.

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