Room requirements for participatory meetings
Art of Hosting, Facilitation, Featured, Open Space, World Cafe
I don’t know why I have never done this, but a recent misunderstanding with a client has prompted me to get more accurate about the room requirements we need for good participatory meetings.
Many of my meetings involve being in both a circle configuration and gathered around small tables. It is possible to move table in and out, but for most meetings (and full day or more workshops) these room requirements will be ideal:
- The formula for an ideal room size is 100 square feet per person or 10 square meters per person. the more square the room the better. This allows us to set up a circle and a cafe space. If we are only doing one process (a world cafe OR an Open Space), then we can go with 75 square feet or 7.5 square meters per person. But more room is always better, especially in pandemic times.
- Good air filtration is important.
- Natural light is ideal. Windows on two sides of the room with empty walls on the other two sides is perfect.
- Room set up is a circle of chairs in one half of the room and a cafe space in the other side. The tables in the cafe space should be ideally 3×3 feet or 1×1 meter with four chairs around them. For a group of 40 people, we need 10 tables. Square tables work best. if squares aren’t available, 6 foot (2 meter) long rectangular tables work well too, and we can get 6 people around them if need be. Round conference tables are not helpful as people are too far apart and it increases the noise in a room.
- It is ideal to be able to tape posters on the wall using painter’s tape.
- Projection optional but useful.
- For groups larger than 40, and depending on the acoustics, a handheld microphone is helpful. I always assume there are folks in the room with hearing issues. 30-40 is the maximum for unamplified sound, and even then some people have very soft voices.
Typical materials we use in workshops and participatory events include these:
- Mr. Sketch markers, one marker per four people.
- Crayola markers, one package of these per 20 people.
- Plain white flip chart paper for the tables so people can write on it. One pad of 50 sheets per 30 people.
- Post it flipchart pads optional (these are expensive and not as useful as plain pads, but we do use them)
- Post-it notes Packages of 3×5 and 6×4 and assorted 2×2 square sizes are useful too. Important that these have the “Super Sticky” symbol on them which means they will stick to walls and hang vertically.
- Basic office supplies: Scissors, painter’s tape, ballpoint pens and name tags.
- Additional decorations for the circle centre, important organizational artifacts, nice fabrics, flowers.
- A portable bluetooth speaker for music.
For local events, I usually bring the markers and post it notes, letter sized paper, tape and bluetooth speaker, and ask the client to bring flip chart pads, office supplies and the organizational artifacts.
Put all that together well and you get a beautiful space with lots of room to move around and lots of materials to work with.
What is your essential list?
My list is almost identical! I’ve taken to sending a floor plan to organizers to make clear the size space I’d prefer. I have some excellent collapsible containers to place on tables to hold markers and post-its. They’re made of leather and the corners snap together to create a shallow box. I bring patterned tablecloths, depending on the group, the work, and how much space I have. I also bring some stick tack and an assortment of colored paper. A few years back, I ordered something called a sticky wall for places that didn’t want stuff taped to their walls but I could never get it to work properly.
A chime, and
Something to serve as a speaking stick
Yes indeed. Although when working with Indigenous Elders and residential school survivors I don’t use chimes as they sometimes remind people of the school or church bell.
Fabulous list, Chris. The only thing I see missing is the chocolate…
I am often surprised at how difficult these requirements are for some clients to hear, to imagine. So I try and share a sketch that helps them see the possibilities.
And I LOVE LOVE big spaces with attached or close by private nooks for spontaneous conversation. I dislike breakout rooms unless there is a very clear benefit. I love the cross pollination of small groups in a large room and so thus LOVE good acoustics. A noisy room is hard for many of us (old ears, here10
Definitely hand held Mike even if only 10 people..people have vocal chord disorders and others have hearing challenges.
Definitely break out rooms. People with hearing challenges, hearing aids and some mental health challenges have great difficulty hearing and participating when the breakouts are in the main room. Same goes for people with vocal chord disorders. Forexample people with spasmodic dysphonia have great difficulty speaking when there is background noise.
Making sure environment is scent free. An increasing number of people have chemical sensitivity…hence make sure the Mr sketch markers are unscented.
The chairs in the circle shouldn’t be touching if possible. Some people, especially those with particular mental health challenges and some trauma survivors cannot cope with too close a proximity.
If posting reports on a wall make sure height is comfortable for reading and that print is big enough for older people, people on medications.
If unsure, think about inclusivity and belonging
Centre the comfort of those furthest from equity and all will be well for all. My friend Kelly Foxcroft-Poirier taught me that, among many other good teachers in my life!
A great resource, Chris – thank you.
Some time back, I started documenting the ideal venue/room for a Knowledge Café. I still have not quite finished it, but you will find the material here:
Probably the most complete post is the one on the choice of tables:
Great list Chris, right down to the Mr Sketch marker pens which are still the benchmark imho. A couple of other aspects from a long list which didn’t make it into my book Hosting Generative Change:
• Access? Entering a well-prepared space is a key element of the good-enough holding of anxiety we are looking for. Can you get into the space in advance to prepare it and set up? I much prefer to get in the evening before (or even the day before, for large events with more complex technical set-ups) to make sure everything is ready, chairs are set out as you wish, the place is suitably decorated, everything is in place, cared for and is ready to go the following morning. Setting up on the day can be a nerve-racking rush and takes your focus from welcoming the participants.
• Practicalities? What are the catering arrangements? If you are offering lunches you will need to ensure that whoever is supplying them can fit in with dietary requirements and timings. Who is doing the washing up? (Lovely lunches quickly turn into piles of dirty plates!) What is the cost? What are the transport links? Is there parking?
Along with the windows you mention, I find its essential to have some representation from the more-than-human world in the room when humans are reflecting on and moving into the future. Flowers? Plants? Stones?
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