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Strategies for Planning Effective Scientific Workshops. Amanda Staudt National Wildlife Federation Friday, April 13, 2007. Introductions and opening remarks. Introductions: Who are you? What do you work on?

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strategies for planning effective scientific workshops

Strategies for Planning Effective Scientific Workshops

Amanda Staudt

National Wildlife Federation

Friday, April 13, 2007

introductions and opening remarks
Introductions and opening remarks
  • Introductions:
    • Who are you?
    • What do you work on?
    • Tell us about a memorable scientific workshop experience (positive or negative)
  • Opening remarks
    • What is a scientific workshop?
    • What makes scientific workshops challenging to plan?
    • Managing expectations
    • Everyone is busy!
  • Setting clear objectives
  • Crafting the agenda
    • Practice activity
  • Guidance to speakers and participants
  • Advertising


  • Seamless logistics
  • Facilitating discussions
    • Practice activity
  • Follow up

What are some topics of workshops that you would like to attend?

    • Pick top 5 ideas for use during practice activities




setting clear objectives for the workshop
Setting clear objectives for the workshop
  • Meeting some stated need
  • Some common goals of workshops include
    • sharing info among colleagues
    • sharing info among different groups of experts (e.g., cross disciplinary; science-policy)
    • examining a problem and looking for a solution
    • scoping a new area/project
  • Attainable
  • Communicated to everyone at the outset
setting clear objectives for the workshop some examples
Setting clear objectives for the workshop: Some examples

2. Understanding and Improving Forecasts of Rapid Changes in Hurricane Intensity

4. A National Integrated Drought Information System

9. Assimilating Ecological, Biological, and Geosciences Process Studies and other Data Sources into Climate Models

10. Intersection of the Carbon and Water Cycles

18. Space Weather Forecasting

19. Improving the Skill of Precipitation Forecasts

A1. Developing a National Strategy for Seasonal-to-Interannual Forecasts

A5. Oceanic Drivers for Seasonal-to-Decadal Climate Variability in the Mid- and High-Latitudes

sharing info among colleagues

sharing info among different groups of experts

examining a problem and looking for a solution

scoping a new area/project

crafting the agenda 1
Crafting the agenda (1)
  • How best to meet the objectives?
  • Some different variants, which you can mix and match:
    • Seminar style
      • a long presentation followed by Q&A
      • good for conveying background context, setting the stage
    • Conference style
      • 12-15 minute talks, followed by 1-3 minutes for discussion/Q&A
    • Panels
      • 3 or more panelists who give short remarks followed by a monitored discussion/Q&A period
      • good for topics that need a lot of discussion
    • Breakout groups
      • good for working sessions to refine themes, discuss implications, develop action items, etc. from plenary discussions
    • Concurrent sessions on different topics
    • Respondents/discussants
    • Paper/abstracts in advance
    • Training sessions/opportunities interspersed
crafting the agenda 2
Crafting the agenda (2)
  • Intro/stage-setting presentations
    • Welcome/logistics: typically best done by the master organizer
    • Ensuring that everyone understands the objectives: typically best done by the chair/facilitator
    • Setting the right tone and giving background context: typically best done by an invited, “keynote” speaker or two
      • Positive
      • Constructive
      • Energizing
      • Outraged
      • Others?

Tiny tip:Calling it a “keynote presentation” can help you to get a bigger name speaker who might not otherwise be interested in attending the workshop!

crafting the agenda 3

Workshop Woe:

So many talkscrammed in thatthere’s no way todigest theinformation!

Crafting the agenda (3)
  • Building in time for discussion
    • One reason why everyone is gathered (we could all read about each other’s work from the comfort of our homes)
    • Tendency to shortchange this part of a meeting because
      • Individual presenters always want more time
      • Large time chunks on the schedule with no specific agenda make organizers nervous
    • Have faith that participants will participate: they are there because they WANT to talk about this stuff
    • Don’t overbook

Tiny tip:Speakers usually will fill all of their allotted time, even if some is designated for discussion. Give them a shorter time to speak and build in 20-30 min. specifically for discussion after every 3-4 speakers.

crafting the agenda 4

Tiny tip:If you notice lots of folks starting to slip out, it’s time for a break!

Crafting the agenda (4)
  • Build in breaks
    • No more than 2 hours between breaks
    • 15-20 minutes is a good amount of time
      • Long enough to use restroom, get a beverage/cookie, chat with colleagues briefly
      • Not so long that there’s a temptation to squeeze in a conference call or get distracted by other work
    • It’s not wasted time!
      • Participants have a chance to recharge
      • Participants have a chance to interact
crafting the agenda 5 some examples
Crafting the agenda (5):Some examples
  • Earth-Atmosphere Interactions: Understanding and Responding to Multiple Environmental Stresses
  • Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate Strategic Planning Workshop
  • Climate Research Committee Forum: Development of Integrated Earth System Analysis Capability
  • Archiving and Accessing Environmental and Geospatial Data at NOAA: NOAA Data User – Manager Forum
  • Climate Change and U.S. Transportation
practice activity design your own agenda
Practice Activity:Design your own agenda!
  • Groups of 5-6 people for each topic
    • Join a group on a topic that you know something about
  • Develop an agenda for a 2-day workshop on your topic
    • What are the objectives of your workshop?
    • What perspectives and information will be necessary to meet those objectives?
    • How will you organize the workshop time (e.g., presentations, panels, break-out groups)?
guidance to speakers in advance
Guidance to speakers in advance

Workshop Woe:

Speaker gives a standard talk that has little to dowith the statedobjectives

  • One-on-one interaction with speakers to ensure clear expectations
  • What does this involve? At least:
    • Written (e-mail is fine) + oral invitation
    • Follow up ASAP with travel information (if needed)
    • Follow up about 1 month before
      • Who else is on the agenda
      • Reiterate details about timing, logistics
      • What are some topics/issues that you want to make sure are brought out during the workshop
    • Follow up about 1 week before
      • Final agenda
      • And last minute questions

May need to work more closely with speakers if it is important to meet certain objectives during the workshop.

Tiny tip:Setting a limit to the number of slides can ensure that speakers stay within time limits and stick to the topic

guidance to participants in advance
Guidance to participants in advance
  • Briefing materials for participants
    • Are they necessary?
    • How much?
      • Assume that they will be read (more likely skimmed!) on the airplane
    • What?
      • Might need more information if bringing together people from different disciplines/perspectives: background material helps ensure that participants are bringing some shared knowledge to the table
      • If many speakers are going to be referring to one or more landmark studies, include some info about it
advertising to ensure good participation
Advertising to ensure good participation
  • Short and focused e-mail contact, with additional materials available upon request or online
  • Targeting desired participants
  • How frequently to advertise
    • As soon as you know the workshop is definitely happening, send out a “Save the Date” and perhaps inquire as to interest/availability
    • 3-6 months in advance, contact potential attendees with information about logistics (registration, accommodations, travel, etc.) and preliminary details about the agenda
    • 2 weeks before any deadlines for accommodations, registration, etc., send out a reminder
    • 2 weeks before the workshop, send out final (or near final) agenda
    • 2-3 days before, send out a final reminder
seamless logistics 1
Seamless logistics (1)
  • Attention to details is key!!
  • Seems obvious, but common source of problems
  • Choose a location that is conducive to attaining meeting objectives
    • Focused on a specific deliverable: avoid distractions
    • Getting creative juices flowing: relaxing but invigorating setting
    • If topic is controversial, pick a neutral setting
    • Enough space, but not too much
  • Where will people sit and how will it affect the dynamic?
  • Name tags, tent cards, signing in
  • Start on time, keep to the schedule
  • How will one contact the organizers during the meeting?
  • Meals, coffee, water, snacks

Tiny tip:If participants need to go offsite for lunch, then you need to build in extra time

seamless logistics 2
Seamless logistics (2)
  • Internet availability: pros and cons
  • A/V: minimize time wasted by being prepared
    • Advancing slides
    • Loading presentations in advance
    • Speaker see the slides and the audience
    • Laser pointers

Workshop Woe:

Everyone is excited toget started, but has to wait for the speakerto load his presentation, figure out how toadvance the slides, &work the pointer.

seamless logistics 3
Seamless logistics (3)
  • Delegating responsibilities during the workshop
    • Logistics
    • Master organizer
    • Chair/facilitator
    • Recorder/note taker
      • Sometimes good to have different people for different sessions
    • Doorkeeper/meeter-and-greeter
facilitating discussion 1
Facilitating discussion (1)
  • Setting ground rules
    • How does one get recognized to speak?
    • Is interrupting presenters okay?
    • Managing the time
  • Ways to engage the full group
    • Round robin
    • Make sure everyone has a chance to speak at the beginning (less daunting to speak later)
    • Breaking into smaller groups
    • Active agreement

Tiny tip:If participants have tent cards, then standing them on end can be a good way to indicate when one wants to talk.

facilitating discussion 2
Facilitating discussion (2)
  • Important role of the chair/facilitator
    • What the chair/facilitator should do:
      • Set a positive, constructive tone
      • Make sure the discussions don’t go off track
      • Remain content neutral
      • Listen actively to all group members
      • Seek involvement and participation from everyone
      • Seek agreement and understanding among group members by effectively paraphrasing or synthesizing major themes of discussion
      • Navigate the way by guiding the process toward desired outcomes
      • Help maintain ground rules
      • Keep to the time specifications of the agenda OR clearly explain reasonable changes to agenda
facilitating discussion 3
Facilitating discussion (3)
  • Important role of the chair/facilitator
    • What the chair/facilitator should NOT do:
      • Be a presenter
      • Be responsible for logistics
      • Take advantage of position and dominate the conversation
      • Judge or evaluate ideasgenerated by the group
      • Play favorites

Workshop Woe:

Chair who has predetermined the outcome of thediscussions and refuses to consideralternative points of view.

practice activity have a facilitated discussion
Practice Activity: Have a Facilitated Discussion
  • Rejoin your group from earlier
  • Pretend that you’re attending the workshop that you planned
  • Pick one of the discussion periods and have a discussion on the topic.
    • One person should be the facilitator, making sure that everyone gets an opportunity to contribute
    • Another person should be the recorder, looking for opportunities to synthesize the group’s comments
follow up
Follow up
  • Thank you notes to speakers
  • Thank you and/or update to sponsors
  • E-mail to all participants thanking them for their involvement and perhaps recapping major outcomes/action items
  • Make meeting materials and outcomes available to participants and possibly other interested parties who were unable to attend
  • Follow through on any action items
  • Workshop evaluation
    • Were the objectives met?
    • Surveys to assess participants opinions
  • Development of deliverables
deliverables 1
Deliverables (1)
  • In general, participants like to have longer-lasting value/outputs
    • Presenters tend to be better prepared
    • Participants tend to be more engaged (because they know their comments can have an impact on the output)
    • Provides some focus to the discussions
  • In some cases, knowing that there are no written outputs can create a sense of intellectual freedom (e.g., Gordon Conferences)
  • Consider how formal the outputs need to be
deliverables 2
Deliverables (2)
  • Some options for deliverables
    • Rapporteur presentations/reports
      • e.g., CCSP workshop
    • Minutes
      • e.g., CRC meetings
    • Reports
      • e.g., BASC summer studies, AMS policy colloquiums
    • Webposting
      • lots of examples
  • Workshops are an excellent way for scientific experts to interact and collectively work toward stated objectives
  • Careful planning of the agenda can enable a workshop to meet the objectives
  • Attention to logistical details can improve the workshop experience for all participants
  • A well facilitated discussion is an important component of an effective meeting
  • Consider developing workshop deliverables to create longer lasting value