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Ten step guide to running an Ideas Farm

Before the day

  1. A month or two before the workshop, start asking people for their ideas about improvements they’d like to see in their town or village. Perhaps set up a simple online survey using Survey Monkey, inviting open responses rather than ticking pre-selected topics. Or set up a stand in a busy location and collect people’s ideas on post-it notes. This will give you an idea of what people are interested in and is helpful because it starts to get local people thinking and talking about the ideas farm and will give you a sense of where the most interest lies.
  2. Choosing a venue: In a village there might be one obvious venue. In a town you might have more choices. Ideally, choose somewhere that doesn’t feel too official. This space should be friendly and informal and big enough for different groups to be working independently of each other.
  3. Promoting and inviting: Make sure as many people as possible know about the workshop, and that their contribution will be valuable. Try to reach those local people who are less involved in local life, as well as stalwarts who already do a lot. You should collect ideas as well as people with the energy to power those ideas. Use Facebook and Twitter, and tap into existing local networks such as newsletters and email lists. Invite councillors – it’s important they hear what people are interested in.

On the day

  1. Setting up the room: This is a workshop, so don’t lay the room out like a board meeting or a lecture hall. Set out tables ‘cabaret style’, so that people are sitting around tables in groups of about six to eight. Make sure there are pens and paper on the tables. You may need a projector and screen.
  2. Setting the scene: The facilitator should spend a few minutes setting out the key principles (see above). People already involved in successful community projects could be invited to say a few words. WHAT ARE THE KEY PRINCIPLES EXACTLY?
  3. Getting people started: It could be helpful to show people some headline findings from a collecting exercise, perhaps by showing a slide which captures the main themes. It’s likely that these will be of interest, but also important to invite others to propose ideas.
  4. Getting conversations underway: Ask groups to nominate a scribe and hand out sheets of prompt questions. After about an hour, ask each group to give a few headlines from their discussions, including what they think needs to happen next to make progress, and who needs to be involved.
  5. Keeping a record: Take photos and, if possible some film or audio. This may be helpful in showcasing and building momentum afterwards.
  6. Giving people clarity about next steps: It’s important the momentum isn’t lost once people leave the venue. Encourage people to leave their contact details, along with the specific topics or projects they are interested in, and to exchange contact details with each other.

Aftermath

  1. Keep the momentum: Remember the workshop is just the start, and some projects may gather speed straight away while others may need some continued nurturing and prompting from you, a town / parish clerk or a councillor. Ring and email people to see how they’re getting on and to keep relationships growing and conversations simmering. Little and often is better than allowing momentum to fade away between big meetings.