By Marcelo Ber, Regional business and children rights focal point at UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Office

The exciting and unique momentum that UNICEF and other international organizations are experiencing right now should allow us to innovate not only in program delivery but also in other aspects of our daily work. I would like to share and challenge you to rethink how we deliver workshops to engage participants as co-creators and fully collaborative members.

Since joining UNICEF seven years ago, I worked for the organization at the national, global and regional level and I have participated in dozens of workshops. Not surprisingly, the most exciting and relevant conversations at these workshops happened, many times, during side meetings or coffee breaks rather than in the main room of the workshop.

In many of the workshops where I have participated (and a few of them even organized by myself!) the agenda was defined several weeks in advance. Most of the time, the workshops included a lot of PowerPoint  presentations from handpicked members trying to make an emphasis on general topics selected directly by the organizers.

Selection of the Latin America rock - paper – scissors champion before the open space.
Selection of the Latin America rock – paper – scissors champion before the open space. Photo: Silvina Florencia Giusti

To shake things up a bit, last November at a regional private sector workshop for 60 participants, we choose to use for the first time the Open Space Technology (OST) to run the workshop, where participants and speakers could tailor and recommend their own discussions. This methodology gave to us the opportunity to cover a lot of ground, get many questions answered, and themes discussed in a short period of time.

At the event, the agenda was co-created by our 60 participants. They all had the opportunity to pitch their own topics in 30 seconds. Participants came up with over 35 topics that were all discussed. With the OST methodology, participants came up with the issues that they wanted to address and discuss such as “the next big idea” or “maximizing team motivation,” rather than with questions that the organizing team would have potentially put together such as “consultation on the revised private sector monitoring and evaluation framework” and other topics.

On the wall, the agenda with the 35 themes selected by participants to discuss.
On the wall, the agenda with the 35 themes selected by participants to discuss. Photo: Silvina Florencia Giusti

Using the Open Space Technology, participants do not follow any structure on deciding which session they would attend. In our workshop, people decided with their own feet to attend or leave one of the 7 parallel self-organized sessions during four time slots. They were also free to determine the desired outcomes of the conversation, even the length of time. In many cases participants self-organized groups to follow-up the discussion after the workshop.

Self –organized discussion during the open space workshop. Participants were free to determine the desired outcomes of the conversation, the length of time, and other details.
Self –organized discussion during the open space workshop. Participants were free to determine the desired outcomes of the conversation, the length of time, and other details. Photo: Silvina Florencia Giusti

A lot of participants told us that the open space was one of the most interesting sessions of the regional workshop and that it was a completely different experience for them because most relevant topics were discussed in the main room (rather than in the coffee breaks!) and were co-created with participants.

Do you think that everyone at UNICEF and other international organizations should innovate with open space or other technologies to generate more co-creation and collaboration at workshops?

For more details fell free to contact Marcelo Ber at mber@unicef.org – Marcelo is Regional business and children rights focal point at UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Office.

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