Facilitator Notes — Remote Ideation

A few facilitator notes on running a remote ideation session.

For the past few weeks we’ve been offering HOW sessions on questions like, How can my team run a remote ideation session? Participants have ranged from educators and consultants to lawyers, — all folks working to involve their customer in the design of their service.

Below are nine notes that we’ve (Holly May Mahoney and Catherine Collins) compiled on running a virtual ideation session.

01 Arrival Exercise:

As people are joining in for their first time, give them a fun task to do to make use of the inevitable 5 to 10 minute delay. This might be less of a challenge as more people get used to working with digital design or conferencing tools, but with first timers it’s helpful to have an arrival exercise.

02 Flip between digital and analogue:

Just because you’re virtual doesn’t mean that all of the exercises need to be digital. You can also use pen and paper even in a remote environment. We ran a few warm-up exercises like 30 Circles with pen and paper and it worked well.

03 Do some exercises that get energy into each physical space:

Whether that’s drum rolling on the desk a few times or making a few collective noises, it will help create some of the physical energy that is often present after a warm-up. You can even get people to stand-up and stretch — just like in-person workshops it’s useful to help people energize between exercises.

04 Alternate between pairs, trios, etc: Zoom has a fabulous breakout function to put people into smaller groups. Use it to draw on techniques like “1–2–4-All” from Liberating Structures.

05 Co-facilitate:

Have a co-facilitator so that you can balance content, responding to participants and the inevitable technical issues / gremlins that are bound to pop up.

06 Timing:

Keep the sessions to 120 minutes with a bio break in the middle. 60 minutes is definitely too short for an ideation session and 90 felt tight. 120 minutes felt just right and gave plenty of space for a thoughtful debrief.

07 Tech:

Choose what works best for your participants, and consider the participant’s knowledge and accessibility of different platforms. Mural or Miro are helpful whiteboards for making ideas visible. For lower tech, Google docs, sheets or forms can also work.

08 Be human & present:

Just because we’re remote doesn’t mean we need to be robots. Try to use your video camera if you can, looking right into the camera to create a sense of connection. Of course working from home these days might not always make that possible, but when you can, have your video on.

09 Test, iterate, test again:

Thank you to those who participated and whose feedback helped shape every iteration. We pulled together our content based on a short survey, experience facilitating together in person and online, and a few hypotheses of what people might need. The feedback and iteration shaped our work as much as the prep and research beforehand.

If you’re interested in a session with your team or a public session you can learn more here.