In the 80’s whenever someone used the word workshop, they meant a place where things were made or repaired. Today, Workshops imply a group format where people learn, perform collective problem-solving, brainstorm, or innovate.

A Workshop is characterized by a group of individuals who have come together with more or less a common goal i.e. to acquire new knowledge, problems solve or any of the other objectives stated above. Depending on the size of the group, a Workshop is facilitated by a single or multiple facilitators. A Workshop removes participants from their everyday contexts and places them in a context that provokes reflection and innovation. Workshops are also an effective tool to evoke learning & development of the employees of an organization. It is also a helpful tool to introduce organizational change when implementing an ERP. Additionally, Workshops as a form of research can be used to gather primary as well as secondary data from the participants. Primary data is what emerges in real-time from the interactions between the researcher and the participants whereas secondary data emerges in retrospect when referring to notes, recording or the Workshop or other documents pertaining to the research. Again, depending on whether the analysis is performed by someone who was present at the Workshop versus someone who wasn’t can sometimes influence the quality of the finding. At the same time, it can be beneficial to the person performing the analysis can do so with objectivity. Research oriented Workshops, therefore, involve participants through activity as a part of research design. The researcher or facilitators plays the role of somewhat an ethnographer in the context of Workshops.

There are four types of Workshop methods: Contractual, Consultative, collaborative, and collegiate. The methods, their purpose, advantages, and disadvantages are listed below

ContractualTo conduct research on the Workshop participants in inquiries and experimentsResearch participants devote set time for the Workshop as the participation is paidIn cases where participants are paid to participate, a thorough background check is required to ensure authenticity
ConsultativeTo consult Workshop participants on domain-specific issues and regarding their opinions before interventions are made  
CollaborativeTo problem solve, brainstorm or innovate. The researchers and participants work together, but with the researcher being in controlCan lead to developing greater empathy as well as a great rapport between the researcher and participantMay affect the natural journey of the participant. Can lead to research subject and researcher bias
CollegiateThe Workshop researchers and participants contribute in a mutual process controlled by the participants.Can lead to developing greater empathy as well as a great rapport between the researcher and participantMay affect the natural journey of the participant.
Can lead to research subject and researcher bias


Advantages of Workshops

01 Thought diversity

One can get a large number of diverse ideas from different participants.

02 Group Think

With more individuals involved in the activity, many ideas can be generated quickly. Again, groups can prove to be much more effective in problem-solving by combining each other’s experiences.

03 Creative Problem Solving

Stimulates creative problem solving within the group.


Disadvantages of Workshops

01 Time & Cost consuming

Can be more time and cost consuming in case of contractual or consultative Workshops. If the synthesis is not satisfactorily achieved, then the session could be pointless and therefore could take up a lot of time with the objective to synthesize.

02 Experienced facilitator

An experienced facilitator or moderator will be able to ensure that the participants feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and that everyone contributes to the workshop in some way.

03 Too many cooks in the kitchen

May not result in great and innovative ideas from a single session. Again, too many participants may not prove to be beneficial in new idea generation.

04 Fear of judgment & inauthenticity

Participants afraid of getting judged for their ideas may not be honest or open during the session.

Think Design recommendation

Workshop as a problem-solving method is one of the newest and most innovation-inspiring methods today, but when done right. As explained above, do not conduct workshop when a group setting is counterproductive. Choose in-depth interviews instead in this context.

Workshop as a data collection/ research method does have some overlaps with focus groups whereas the difference here is that a participant in such a Workshop is representative of a set of users. This comes with the assumption that this participant is unbiased and is an honest representation of the persona. This is one of the biggest pitfalls of this method: That the opinions can be colored by its participants.

Yet, Workshop is a very popular research and problem-solving technique and the reasons are very obvious:

  • Research insights collected from Workshop obviates the need to conduct primary research thereby optimizing a lot of time, effort and spend.
  • Solutions developed through a Workshop are created by collaborative problem solving which means that there are multiple perspectives embedded within them. This ensures that the solutions have factored in many scenarios and that they are likely to get superior adoption among stakeholders.
  • The outcome of a well-executed 8-hour Workshop is richer, more productive and much more economical than working with each individual, gathering individualized insights and consolidating them leading to a probable solution.
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