4.3 - (During the workshop) Ground rules, roles, and resources - Week 2

Going into a collaborative workshop, it’s a good idea to lay out your plans, some reasonable ground rules, and identify participant roles/tasks, and available resources. Doing this beforehand can help make the most of the group’s time, and provide a point of reference when participants are seeking direction.

Roles, Ground Rules and Group Agreements

The following are example sets of participant guidelines/ground rules that you can use parts of to craft your own:

Example 1: Roles for Participants

Depending on the goals of the collaborative workshop, there are a tasks that need to be completed as well as common roles for participants, which may include multiple tasks. Listed below are a handful of common tasks and roles for sprints/workshops, which will also vary based on the size (# of people) and length (hours/days):


This person acts as a guide for the group, ensuring that the group continues to work towards the end goal or deliverables. This person is often less of a decision-maker and takes more of a sherpa role, not exhibiting authority over the direction of the project. He or she does not necessarily need to be an expert in subject area focused on in the workshop, but more importantly does understand the tasks and roles involved in making a workshop successful.

Subject Matter Expert (SME)

This person is an expert in the subject area under focus in the workshop. Organizational and leadership skills are less important in this role, but understanding and being able to effectively communicate big-picture ideas to the rest of the team is key. The SME helps shape the details of the end project or deliverable.


This person is able to document the work of the group in a way that it can later be reported back for feedback and iteration. Depending on the size and number of breakout groups that form during a workshop, more than one scribe may be needed to report progress and updates. This person usually has superior written and verbal communication skills, is not required to be a SME, but can communicate with the group easily and effectively.

Tech Support

Workshops can be low-tech (post-its and markers) or high-tech (web documents and virtual classrooms), but in either case it is important to understand the technical needs of the workshop, and if needed, designate a participant to provide support. Workshops that involve remote participation will require more technical planning and setup to run smoothly, and would benefit greatly from having a designated tech support person.

Example 2: Participant guidelines by Aspiration Tech / CC BY-SA

During the event, we request that participants read and honor the following Participant Guidelines. Our gathering is a diverse one by any measure; participants have arrived from many countries spread across the globe, representing a broad range of experiences and viewpoints. So much of what we are trying to accomplish at this event involves building new relationships, and positive attitudes will serve as the glue to hold it all together.

While we do not want to dictate behavior or in any way limit expression, we provide the following guidelines as a starting point for collaboration and community building during the event.

  • Demonstrate respect for others at all times: Effective sharing and learning can only take place when interactions are built on a foundation of respect for others. It will never be acceptable to insult others or demonstrate disrespect, even in moments of philosophical disagreement and passionate exchange. Please refrain from side conversations while others are speaking, and honor the posted schedule by arriving promptly for sessions so that others are not made to wait.
  • Include everyone in the circle. The event should not be viewed as a competition to prove who is most knowledgeable, but rather as an opportunity to broaden our networks of skill, collaboration and understanding. Strive to ensure that no one is left out; introduce yourself to strangers early and often, and speak in language that is accessible to all. In particular, please define acronyms and technical jargon when using them in discussion.
  • Ask questions early and often: The event is convened specifically for the benefit of those who need to know more about developing, recommending and/or deploying software and technology to the NPOs and NGOs they work with. Participants should feel free to ask any question at any time; there shall be no such thing as a stupid question.
  • Embrace a spirit of sharing: We believe that everyone is an expert in their own realm, and encourage each participant to please contribute their wisdom to the mix. Breaking down barriers between the vague notions of novice and expert will be the order of the day; all of us know something and none of us knows everything.
  • Share first, debate later: Many among us possess strong beliefs on matters of technology, politics, philosophy and community. While the organizers endorse debate as a key component in building understanding, we ask that participants focus on finding common ground for sharing during sessions, and endeavor to debate offline, outside of sessions, with others who welcome the debate.
  • Help us to realize the full potential of this gathering: our goal is to better understand how to build capacity among implementers and developers working in non-profit organizations. Our belief is that relationship building and dialog are fundamental parts of realizing this goal. As you share and learn from others, be mindful that we are trying to discern what works and what doesn’t work in peer-to-peer skill and knowledge transfer. If we can learn better how to learn while simultaneously teaching others how to teach, our time together will be well spent.

Example 3: Group agreement

group agreement

It can be useful to start your meeting or workshop by negotiating a group agreement. The aim of the group agreement is to create a safe and respectful space in which people can work together productively.

Essentially a group agreement is a set of statements that set the tone for how people will behave within the meeting or workshop. It might include: “respect everyone's opinions”; “allow everyone an equal opportunity to speak” (this could be more specific - “no interrupting” for example); “confidentiality”; “mobile phones switched off, or onto silent mode”. The key thing about a group agreement is given away by it's name - it only works as an effective facilitation tool if it's agreed by the group. Agreements can be proposed to the group, but not imposed.

Active agreement is a useful addition to any group agreement. Essentially it's an agreement that the group will actively signal their opinion on any given issue. This allows you to ask the group questions knowing you'll get a definite answer. So for example, you might feel that group energy is low and ask the group if they need a break or are happy to carry on with the next activity or agenda item. If they simply stare at their feet what do you do? Active agreement avoids this.

"For more information and various ways to apply this tool, take a look at the briefing Group Agreements for Workshops and Meetings at http://www.seedsforchange.org.uk/tools#groupagreement. This example was adapted from this source.*

Task: Lay out ground rules and think of roles

What roles would be useful for the delivery of your workshop?

What ground rules will you utilize for your workshop? Why these rules and not others?

Do you have concerns about the use of ground rules / group agreements? If so can you thin of a way to overcome these concerns without losing the benefits they provide?

Post in the comments below.


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