Wednesday, May 5, 2010

How Sticky Can A Workshop Be?

I've been thinking about professional development recently--last week I did a two day workshop for museums here in Kyiv and at the same time, I've been working with colleagues to develop new curricula modules for the American Association of State and Local History's StEPs Program.   And the same question always surfaces for me--how can I help ensure that whatever the topic, that it sticks and takes root in an organization.

We've all been to workshops or seminars where we left, filled with energy and great intentions, only to sink rapidly back to the details of everyday life only to think about that new idea or project as we shift the workshop folder from one pile to another.   And I've also seen my share of workshop regulars, who attend every workshop and never actually implement anything.  So as a trainer and presenter, and someone who cares deeply about new ideas percolating out into everyday practice, how can I make new ideas, concepts and practices stickier?   I'm sure there's an entire body of research about how to do this...but this post is based on my own experiences both in Ukraine and in the United States.  More reminders and questions than revelations.

So, some Sticky Enhancers (followed by some Unstickers):
  • Building a community of learners 
With my colleague Anne Ackerson, I developed and ran the Museum Institute at Sagamore for nine years.  Each year, the institute brought a small group of museum professionals together for an intensive four day retreat at an isolated location in the Adirondacks.  The connections forged over that four days--over campfires, meals and training-- provided support as participants returned home to try and implement change.  Here in Ukraine, programs funded by MATRA Program of the Dutch government for both cultural professionals in L'viv and museum professionals throughout the country,  gave very silo-ed professions a new network of colleagues to lean on and draw from.   A post-workshop conversation last week was about beginning a museum roundtable here in Kyiv, to meet and share ideas on a regular basis.
  • Meeting participants where they begin
This seems in even higher relief here in Ukraine, where outside specialists often come in for a limited term workshop, with a limited understanding of the needs and knowledge of the audience, and present materials that may or may not helpful in any way.   I felt my workshop last week went better than most I presented here last year, and that's perhaps because I had already developed some small understanding of this complicated place and issues facing museum professionals here.

  • Making it fun
I'm a firm believer that fun sticks more than not-fun.   Here in Ukraine,  the straightforward lecture is perhaps still the most common method of delivering information to an audience.  So having fun in a workshop is relatively new--some view it as not serious, but I'll guarantee that it provides a memorable experience--which then can hopefully be put to work.
  • Start small
I think this is important on so many levels--I've found it much easier to make an impact on 20 people in a workshop than twice that number.  But I've also found that changes are easier to implement when the workshop provides participants with the tools and encouragement to start with small changes.  It is like pushing a rock uphill to make changes at institutions, particularly when you're not the person in charge.  So I think workshops should always be clear that all change starts with a single step.
  • Follow-Up
Duh.  This goes without saying, but because of time and money, never happens quite as often as we would like.  For an upcoming workshop here in Ukraine we're building in time for me to visit the museums several weeks after the workshop to work directly on implementing ways to make the museum more visitor-friendly.  This, we hope, will give participants a chance to integrate the knowledge into their own practice, and provide a subsequent opportunity to work directly on  their own museum issues.

Learning Unstickers
  • Boring
Another Duh.  No matter who we are, we learn better when we're engaged by the presenter.
  • No Expectations
I think if a presenter goes into a presentation without an expectation of change from his or her audience, then no change will happen.  Someone told me the other day that he had a "canned" presentation he could use.   That seems a surefire way to unstick your audience from your ideas.   I think often the Western European or American short-term presenters here come without any real expectation of creating change, just exposing colleagues here to the work of museums in other places.  A fine idea, but not one likely to create change.
  • No Follow-Up, No Connections
One we've all been guilty of.  I'm increasing interested in considering how social media can help us in this regard.  Can Facebook groups,  blogs, tweets or other elements keep workshop participants in touch--with each other and presenters?   Can presenters afford to connect with each and everyone of those people they present to?   I love that Nina Simon, among many others,  consistently posts her slide presentations for not only workshop participants, but others to learn from.  A great way to continue to the learning.
  • No Willingness to Change
I'm continually baffled by the people, in any country, who attend workshops with no expectation that they will learn anything new ("but we've always done it that way," they say when confronted with something new) or commit to working towards a change.  Why do those kinds of people come to professional development opportunities?

So, as a presenter or as a participant, what are your sticky enhancers and your unstickers?

Top, from Tiago Ribero on Flickr
Center:  Kyiv workshop participants (serious faces, but fun I believe)

1 comment:

Claudia B. Ocello, President & CEO said...

I do a lot of workshops too, these were helpful reminders. One thing I also tell participants, especially when they are experimenting and exploring a new way of teaching or reaching an audience, is that it IS scary to try something new. Sometimes acknowledging the fear will help get past it.

I also remember a workshop I attended where the requirement to attend that two or more people from the same organization had to be there. It was the hope of the presenters that this would ensure more chance that the workshop topic and ideas would be (in your words) "sticky." I'm hoping to use these tactics (along with the great suggestions in your post) with workshops I'm leading this fall in Texas.