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Planning co-design sessions was a nightmare… until we built this template

Or “How going on holiday helped me overhaul Nile’s approach to co-design planning”

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Useful Tools

This is a follow on article from my SDN Academy course.

We’ve created, tested, and refined a new co-design planning toolkit in Nile. And now we’re sharing it with the community.

It’s simple, visual, and the best one we’ve ever used. It lets us quickly collaborate on workshop plans, effectively coordinate objectives and collaboratively build activities and materials.

Not only that, it’s colourful, easy to digest for facilitators and stakeholders, and robust enough to use to drive the session itself.

So here are some of the things we learnt while building it. Read on to learn how it and can improve outcomes in your workshops, whether in person or remote (the link to the toolkit is at the bottom of this article.)

Before digging into the toolkit…

What are co-design workshops?

They’re a coming together of users, actors and stakeholders, making all of them part of the design process. It brings together the right knowledge, perspectives and (design) skillset in the same room for an intensive design session.

Why do we do them?

Co-design sessions often allow for rapid creation, validation, and development of ideas and concepts, while ensuring synchronous buy-in from different actors and stakeholders.

The success of a co-design workshop isn’t (just) down to charismatic and inclusive facilitation… its (at least) as important to design, plan & coordinate the workshop beforehand.

We’ve always had a toolkit, but it used to be… less than ideal.

Heres what we used to do:

Our old co-design planning toolkit
Our old co-design planning toolkit. Cumbersome and document-heavy

Yeah. We spent a lot of time on documentation.

The output was comprehensive, but inscrutable to project stakeholders. The workshop plan and the associated activities and templates felt disconnected. And in the end, it was all so cumbersome that it ended up being a barrier to re-use: it was less effort to build from scratch than comb through hundreds of files and templates to find what you need.

Like so many things, this worked OK-ish for a long time. It was a pain, but who’s got the time to rebuild something like this?

And then I decided to go on holiday.

During the busiest co-design period on my project. It was an accident. Honest.

Jonas' Holiday
It was a good holiday you guys

When I was planning to cycle the Majorcan Colls, my project team needed to run a series of customer co-design sessions in different bank branches, in different cities, with the public, after hours.

It looked like it was going to be complicated. They’re an incredibly experienced team, but I wanted them to feel fully prepared — like they could pick up the workshop plan and know exactly what they needed to do.

The old set of templates and documents wasn’t going to cut it. Finally — this was the motivation I needed to redesign this stalwart of our practice.

Thinking of a workshop as a service

A co-design workshop is a service where you — as the workshop designer and facilitator — have a central role in delivering the service. The Co-design Workshop Planning Toolkit is a key touchpoint.

I started by making a wishlist for what we wanted this specific touchpoint to do for different actors involved in the workshop. I wanted it to:

  1. Save time and effort by creating efficient collaborative planning and enabling delegation
  2. Act as a single view of everything, with the workshop plan and templates in one place
  3. Avoid information overload by giving project stakeholders the right amount of details to feel confident
  4. Deliver consistent outcomes by aligning workshop facilitators and achieving consistency across groups
  5. Enabling re-use of activities by letting us build a library of tried and tested workshop activities and templates across our team
A "Hello Fresh" recipe card
Inspiration for my co-design toolkit: a recipe card from Hello Fresh. Everything you need, clear instructions, and easy to digest at a glance.

So that’s what I built:

Nile’s co-design workshop planning toolkit

It provides a single view. Of everything.

First, I’ve built the whole toolkit in Miro.

Miro is nearly perfect for this, with nigh-on infinite real estate and scalability to lay out your plan, alongside unrestricted file storage. You can drag and drop and organise everything in one place, accessible and downloadable by anyone you choose.

The toolkit I built and refined gives you a birds-eye view of a workshop, without compromising on the detail. We gather timings, objectives, activities — even facilitator scripts and wall layouts if required —together in one place. We can build packing lists, to-do tracking, logistics information and action assignments all on the same board.

This is perhaps the most valuable outcome from our new toolkit. You never lose anything.

We’re not getting paid by Miro to advertise this… but damn it’s a good product. Well done.

Nile’s co-design workshop planning toolkit
This is the toolkit. It’s this simple. Link at the foot of the article
Glance at the section progression, or get deep into the activity breakdowns. Nobody gets lost anymore.

Gives project stakeholders as much as they need

This isn’t just a tool to enable facilitators to run the workshop. We use it to get alignment and buy-in from internal and external stakeholders.

Because it’s visual, colourful and linear, stakeholders can quickly take in the shape of the session, and then focus in to the details as required. It’s supremely accessible, no matter what level of detail stakeholders are looking to get into.

Makes reuse and recycling easy

Think beyond a single workshop. You can now collect and collate all your tried and tested workshop toolkits together into a single, massive resource board, ready for anyone in your team to reuse.

It’ll change your life.

Look at all this reusable goodness

Things to remember

  1. Think of the workshop as a service
  2. Strike the right balance between over- and under-planning
  3. Find out what your stakeholders and facilitators actually need to see in advance
  4. Workshop planning is an enabler of great facilitation

Explore the for template yourself here.

Let us know if you find this useful, or if you’ve used anything similarly effective in the past. I’m always tweaking and refining our approach and on the lookout for new tools!

Jonas Rauff Mortensen

Jonas Rauff Mortensen

Senior Service Designer

I’m a senior service designer with a healthy obsession for making sense of complexity and rethinking how organisations produce, provide and capture value. Have a question about something I’ve written? Don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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