Facilitating Group Convenings
A Group Convening is a multi-hour session where people spend time together discussing a curated set of topics and activities to unlock needs through group dynamics.
This is an example guide for a group convening. This guide was developed for a series of group convenings that were conducted during fieldwork in Dharamsala, India with the Tibetan Exile Community. This is a generalized guide, meaning it was not created for a specific set of people, but it was created within the context of that research effort.
Communication is social. Getting groups of people together in a similar or shared social network to talk about it is another way to understand needs that lay the foundation of IFTs. During each gathering, which usually last between two and four hours, participants are encouraged to tell stories to each other through designed activities. You listen for the language that they use, the emotional quality of their experience and what they think is important. The same skills you use in an interview around active listening and asking follow-up questions and seeking clarity on common terms like “usability”, “privacy”, and “security” still apply in this method. Some of the activities you design are meant to help you understand their worldview and its connection to your research topics, others offer an opportunity for participants to co-design and create solutions to the needs, threats and problems they have shared with you. The following outlines an approach to learning about security, privacy and communication preferences, behaviors and motivations through designing a set of specific activities for a group of people.
The group convening methodology is designed to draw out both areas of consensus and the social tensions that emerge when groups have conflicting points of view. In addition to spending time with multiple people to get a diversity of points of view; this research method also gives you the opportunity to observe a community in action.
One way to think about a Group Convening is a series of activities with an interview interspersed. The number of people included can be a range dependent on your research goals, but ideally you should have 4-8 people able to participate the entire time. Given that this involves connecting with multiple people and needing to capturing the data and information shared, it is even more important to have at least one other person that can facilitate this with you. If this convening requires a translator, it will on average take double the time. Consider cutting back the number of participants and/or activities so you can keep everyone engaged and have enough time to go through topics thoughtfully.
The following are the basic parts of a Group Convening. These can be determined based on your research questions and how you want to use the time of the group:
Group Convenings can be done in a range of settings, but generally speaking more comfortable settings have a positive effect. Group Convenings held in a comfortable living room of someone’s home, or a pleasant outdoor setting on a nice day are good examples of this. Use what is available to you.
Your host is the person who is responsible for inviting others to the convening with you, and possibly hosting the convening itself. You should talk to the host and help them have an understanding of the types of people you are looking for so they can invite the guests that can help your the most. If you haven’t had a chance to interview the host to understand who they are and their connection to the guests, set-up 30 minutes before the convening to do an interview (See Conducting Interviews section for more details)
2). Group Convening
Balance interviewing and shadowing. You want the participants to feel comfortable around you. Get to know them and break the ice – be mindful of cultural norms — say hi, ask them about their families, how they know the host, and so forth. Make sure to establish rapport without disturbing the group dynamic. Before you begin, introduce yourself and your team and give a brief overview of how they will be spending time with you. In the welcome also inquire about privacy and security needs (See Conducting Interviews for more details).
- This is the first time the group is doing something together. They are getting used to each other and especially you and your team.
- Warm-Up activities should be designed to have no right or wrong answer. Make that explicit. The intention is to get participants warmed-up to telling stories about their personal experiences as well as to get comfortable commenting on what others have shared.
- Design the activity to be an opportunity to explain or share something that they are familiar with. In the case of SecondMuse’s fieldwork in Dharamsala, we asked each participant to tell us about their mobile device – how do you use it?, favorite apps, etc.
2-3 Interactive Activities
- More often than not these are activities that allow people to create either individually or in a small group or set of pairs and then share with the larger group in the form of a debrief or in some cases a presentation.
- The activities and debrief length can vary, but on average, think about the entire time you have set-up with the host and guests and budget time for your activities accordingly. In the example from Dharamsala, the SecondMuse team facilitated 3 interactive exercises and used a team break-down of 1.5 hours to do all 3.
- Your role is to make sure people clearly understand the directions, have the materials they need to complete them, and to facilitate conversations when the larger group comes back together.
- For each of the activities generate 3-5 facilitation questions to help the group share what they were working on. Some of these questions should be about specific parts of the activity while others should reflect the main themes of the research.
- Please see Visual Exercises for more details on how to design some of the activities you can use in a gathering.
This is the opportunity to revisit any interesting topics that came up over the time together and bring up areas of interest that you may have missed. By this time, people are the most comfortable with you and each other so feel free to ask those “tough” and specific questions. Also, use this time to ask them how this experience was for them and if there are things that we didn’t discuss that would be important for you to know.
Thank the host and have a ~15 minute wrap-up interview with them. Ask them how they thought the event went and any other lingering questions you may have.