Workshop Design

I was asked to give several workshops over summer 2014 (some “Intro to Permaculture”, some “Permaculture in Pots”), of varied lengths and to different audiences. I wanted a ‘workshop design’ that would allow me to reuse as much as possible and to create workshops in the future as easily as possible. (Design from patterns to details, People Care, Catch and store energy, Use and value resources)

Design brief: create a design allowing me to capture information (new and existing) and easily create new workshops.

For this project, I tried out a process of my own (loosely based on SADIM and Deano’s process):


  • Be able to generate specific workshop/talk with minimal prep effort, based on time, goals, and audience.
  • Use existing work and knowledge.
  • Provide means of recording knowledge gained as I go along (integrating feedback). (Integrate rather than segregate)
  • Create a readily-accessible body of information to use: facts, structures, and activities. (Catch and store energy)


I mind mapped the information I already had and what I wanted:

Mind map gathering information for the project: what I want, what experience I already have, etc.
Mind map gathering information for the project: what I want, what experience I already have, etc.

Other available resources:


An idea that came up as I was thinking about goals was to have a ‘tree’ structure to the design, with branches based on specific goals and constraints for the particular workshop. The important questions to ask when designing any workshop are:

  • What am I asked to deliver?
  • What time is available?
  • Who are the audience?
  • What goals do I have for the session? (This would depend in part on the answers to the above questions.)
  • What is the structure? Workshop, talk, something else?

I therefore needed to design these into my workshop creation structure.

I also tried an input/output analysis:

Input Output
  • Knowledge (etc) in book.
  • My own previous practical projects.
  • Effort needed to put a workshop structure together.
  • Effort needed to put an individual workshop together.
  • Publicity.
  • Time (prep and during workshop).
  • Materials for hands-on activities. (Use as example if possible — recycle/freecycle/reuse.)
  • Increased understanding of topic in group.
  • Increased understanding of the topic in me.
  • Knowledge about what works well in a group — which should improve every time. Note: need to make sure I capture this info.
  • Belief in their own abilities and efficacy for group.
  • Increased interest in permaculture. (Thus likely to investigate further, so important to provide info.)
  • More likely to buy my book? (So provide info.)
  • Money? (at least sometimes)
  • This analysis suggested to me that I needed to think about the following aspects in the design:

    • Making the best use of my existing knowledge. (Use and value resources)
    • Front-loading workshop creation as far as possible: bring information together once, use many times; and put most effort into creating a reusable structure. (Catch and store energy, Integrate rather than segregate, People care, Design from patterns to details, Use and value resources)
    • Having a system to capture and use any information or knowledge I gain from each workshop. (Catch and store energy)
    • Having an easy way of giving out further information.
    • Focus on giving workshop attendees a sense of their own ability to make changes, not just on information. (People Care, Use small and slow solutions)

    For short workshops in particular, I wanted to make sure that every element has at least two functions (e.g. introducing ourselves and introducing the idea of permaculture), and each function (goal) was met by more than one workshop element. (Integrate rather than segregate) I therefore needed to identify the functions met by each chunk of workshop material I stored.

    I also needed to consider the best way of storing this material for easy access. Online seemed the obvious choice (and HTML links are a good way of ‘branching’ information outwards and referring to it from many places), but some of my existing material was in hardcopy form so I would need to describe it and give eg page references. This also raised the question of how public I wanted this material to be. I had two straightforward choices for online storage:

    1. WordPress website. Easy to set up, integrates with existing blog etc, easy to edit, can be password protected, easy to make public if I want to later.
    2. Existing other website. Easy to set up, separate from existing blog/site, can be password protected (with slightly more hassle), harder to make ‘pretty’, would have to import to WordPress if I wanted to make it public later.

    Design and Implementation

    I chose to store the information online, on this WordPress site. I started with the material needed for the first workshop I gave, added some more general material, and will continue adding to it as I go along and run more workshops. (Catch and store energy) Having the basic structure in place makes it easy to add material in the appropriate places. The structure includes:

    • Links to information and activities, tagged with time needed, functions each chunk provides, and suggested suitability for specific types of workshop.
    • Information sheet to email afterwards. I decided that as most information is in the form of links, it makes more sense to send an email than use a printed sheet. (Produce no waste) I also plan to give out free Permaculture Association leaflets and Permaculture Magazine free copies (provided by the publisher).
    • A place to record notes and information gained from each workshop for future reference.

    Note: this is still a work in progress! I will be adding to it over time.

    My overall workshop creation process looks like this:

    • Before workshop:
      • Establish time available, likely audience, and goals.
      • Pull out appropriate information and activities from workshop structure.
      • Ensure that it holds together as a whole thing.
      • Check for materials required and bring them together (including free handouts).
    • Give workshop, making sure to give out handouts and feedback sheets at the end.
    • After workshop:
      • Send information email after workshop: basic information plus anything that came up during the session.
      • Record feedback notes and any of my own observations.
      • Invoice if appropriate.

    (Design from patterns to details)


    • Positive: This system genuinely has reduced the amount of work I need to do to put a workshop together. It has also made it easier to assess what I could improve after a workshop, and to improve the next one accordingly.
    • Negative: I am not sure that the current format is the best possible to make the best use of all the material and links that I have. (But it will do for now and I will keep thinking about it.)
    • Interesting/Improvement: It would be great to have a system where I could tick particular boxes and have the whole thing printed out; currently I have to do this manually. And/or to have a couple of ‘default’ workshops saved.

    The main ongoing tweaks are to keep creating/making notes on more bits of the system as I give more workshops (capture and store energy).


    Design process:

    • Positive: I liked this design process, and am likely to use it going forwards.
    • Negative: Actually implementing this is quite hard work and is more difficult than I thought when creating the design. Another time I should think harder about the details of implementation.
    • Interesting: It made the workshops more appealing as I was getting more outputs from the process!

    Thinking about the permaculture ethics:

    • Earth care: My next challenge is to use less flipchart paper…
    • People care: Reusing my own work and valuing my own input and other people’s feedback.
    • Fair shares: Being able to run sessions with less energy input makes it possible to run more sessions, and share knowledge and information more widely.

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