Learning at lunchtime

PrplunchThe brief: provide a group of big-practice architects with some latest thinking on community engagement and social media. Time available 45 minutes. Budget: modest.

Solution: carefully crafted presentation and hand-outs? Not my favourite approach. Game with lots of props? Tight on time, and difficult to get right without a lot of research.
I was a bit stumped ... but the location and time-slot gave me the clue: lunchtime and a flexible corner of the office.
Time was when people in offices had enough time at lunch or coffee break to catch up on the gossip and also share some insights and news of what's going on in different areas. These days it seems to be grab a sandwich, get back to the cubicle, and keep ticking off the 15-minute slots on the timesheet.
So - why not re-invent the learning lunchtime?
Fortunately my clients, PRP architects, in the form of Alexandra Rook and Lesley Gibbs, were happy to try something different. Alexandra, in her previous post with the Civic Trust, had been a strong champion for the salon we ran there successfully ... but you can't bring in the bottles at lunchtime.
We came up with a simple formula: create the outline of an only-slightly-fictitious scenario about community engagement on a housing estate, then invite 20 people to split into groups once they had grabbed their lunch. Three people stood in for the development group: contractor, council and housing association. Others were residents, architects and evaluators.
Simple briefs explained that the residents were disgruntled after initial consultation raised expectations but didn't deliver good results - and invited each group, in slightly different ways, to think what to do next. You can download the briefing notes here, and a note about engagement methods (both pdfs). I also offer presentation notes from this item on Relationship-based engagement.
People quickly got into their groups roles, and the evaluators stirred things up with questions about how things might be improved. Alexandra, playing her real role of participation specialist , was pulled between development group, residents and architects ... which seemed fairly realistic
After half an hour we stopped to share some insights, and that sparked some stories about real-life programmes. I particularly liked the one about the team who used the talents of a cartoonist to develop big King Kong posters to advertise events and planned changes. The local kids whipped them off the notice boards and on to their bedroom walls ... parents got talking ... people turn up. The poster about the concrete-nibbling monster had crowds on the street awaiting the arrival of the demolition equipment.
I hope the modest exercise helped people make a few new connections in the office, and that other events may follow. Or alternatively, as someone who previously worked in the construction industry said: "We always had a tradition of going down to the pub at Friday lunchtime, and staying there. That way you always found out what was going on." Too simple, much too simple.