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8 Workshop Ideas to Activate Insights & Align Stakeholders

Eight UX-perts share their preferred workshop formats to generate new ideas, stretch what’s possible, and determine marching orders.

Words by Ben Wiedmaier, Visuals by Thumy Phan

Workshops are a powerful force-multiplier for any user researcher as they gather folks together—in-person or digitally—around a shared set of goals.

These moments offer unique opportunities to share insights, generate ideas, or brainstorm new ways of approaching recurring questions. They promote alignment, socialize research's impact and approach, and sharpen the ways stakeholders understand the practice.

We asked our community for some examples of workshops that are expanding folks' practice and we received some sharp responses.

Below, a handful of professionals share a collection of workshops with details on when to use it, how to set it up, and best practices for making it a success. A huge thanks to everyone who contributed to this piece!

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Synthesis collabs

By Melissa Galland, Senior UX Researcher at Back Market

What is a synthesis collab?

A synthesis collab is a meeting to discuss research findings and determine actionable next steps. Often, the meeting includes members from various functions in the organization (i.e., design, product) beyond your immediate research team.

I use this workshop when...

I’ve finished collecting and analyzing qualitative data through methods like in-depth interviews or concept tests, and I want to involve stakeholders in unearthing the overall key themes, pain points, remaining knowledge gaps and actions.

Materials/prep before starting this workshop...

All the heavy lifting on the raw data analysis should be done beforehand. You should have extracted insights, key quotes and relevant imagery documented either on paper/ post-its (for in-person) or online, such as in Miro. Ensure to notate which of the above comes from which research participant.

In your workshop you will put all of this together, and as a group identify the themes that will help your project move forward

General step-by-step for running the workshop...

Before the big day:

  • Consider your invite list, and give them plenty of lead time. Yes, you’ll want your design or product lead there, but also consider other stakeholders that have a role to play in the success of the project, like operational leads or engineering, who may have unique insights or perspectives (as well as giving them exposure to the data / users first hand)
  • If there is any relevant documentation that will help ‘prime’ your attendees on the topic (such as project overviews, or relevant prior research summaries), have it shared in advance.

The day of:

  • Introductions to the group; if there are folks in there who are not usually working together, ensure everyone is clear on their roles in your project.
  • Introduction to the workshop objectives, process and expected outcomes. Some of your attendees may never have been involved in a workshop like this before, so being super clear on this will ensure the rest of the workshop runs smoothly
  • Lead the group through a summary of each interview or test, using the pre-summarised data points.
  • At the end of these summaries, have each attendee contribute to writing down their main takeaways, user pain points, and remaining questions or ideas that this process has prompted. Organize their notes on boards for each of these topics.
  • Regroup after each topic, to discuss as a group what you learned and cluster any similar points together visually. These are your main themes (you may also like to name them), and now everyone is aligned on what they are. Hooray!
  • Wrap up your workshop with thank yous and next steps.
How might this workshop "work" remotely…

Using a tool like Miro or Mural along with Zoom or Google meet can ensure the smooth facilitation of this workshop remotely. Consider reducing the time a little if possible, as workshops of this nature can be more tiring sitting in front of a computer screen.

The one thing to make this workshop a success...

Setting clear expectations to your attendees about the intention and expected outcomes. This type of workshop is not a polished share of concrete action items (they will come!), but a hands-on session where active participation is expected.

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Persona passports

By Patricia Donnellan, Senior UX Researcher at Stitch Fix

What are persona passports?

Persona passports are artifact-based representations of your ideal users that include an overview of the “person,” followed by blank sections to illustrate where they are in their journey with the experience and other important aspects of their lives.

For example, one of our personas was a very busy mom who just wants to continue to look and feel stylish, but also has a lot of other things on her plate. On the passport, it would outline who she is, how she’s interacted with StitchFix so far, and what’s important to her in her style journey.

A group of colleagues would then grab one of the passports and go around in character and explain who they are and what’s important to them. Really immersing themselves in the role to better understand potential pain points/needs that the user may have.

I use this workshop when...

I want to inject a participatory element into my research share outs. Effective personas ask for perspective-taking, empathy, and reflection. This workshop uses physical artifacts to "take" stakeholders to the mindsets our users occupy as they engage with our product.

Learn more about how Patricia ran the workshop and see persona passport examples

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Brain-picking sessions

By Sarah Delaney, Behavioral Designer at Lirio

What is a brain-picking workshop?

A brain-picking workshop is a group session designed to discuss potential content ideas. Prior to these meetings I’ve shared prompts to get my team to start brainstorming before we meet so that our meetings are as efficient as possible because they tend to be hours long or a series of meetings.

I use this workshop when...

My teammates often hear me gush over the fact that I am on a team of Behavioral Designers. And, it’s true! In a nascent field, I recognize the luxury of brainstorming partners and I often share this sentiment with my coworkers.

I used this workshop when I was seeking the creative juices of my fellow Behavioral Designers and couldn’t walk over to their office and riff on creative ideas…which is a familiar feeling since we’re a remote team!

Materials/prep before starting this workshop...

Working remotely, I have observed that it’s challenging for me to sustain a level of energy during collaborative workshops for an entire work day. Sessions that I may have previously scheduled for 4-hours or 8-hours are extremely draining for me over Zoom—whether I’m the facilitator or participant.

This feeling has prompted me to prioritize opportunities for collaborative workshops and segment sessions that in a pre-COVID workplace may have been one block of a longer day.

In that spirit, this workshop features one segment of our behavioral design process at Lirio. This segment is focused on ideating before we draft content. Pre-remote-work, I may have combined this segment with a synthesis of discovery research beforehand and a drafting session afterward.

In the remote work context, this segment felt just long enough to be productive and short enough to maintain our energized focus. Before the workshop, our team has:

  • Conducted a literature review, to ground our ideas in the science of what works.
  • Conducted and synthesized discovery research, to ground our ideas in lived experiences.
  • Created a shared brainstorming space such as Mural or Miro, and structured an agenda and ideation prompts to guide the session.
  • Shared a calendar invitation, with sufficient detail to ignite creative thinking beforehand.
  • An appreciation for each of our unique perspectives, strengths, and mindsets as brainstorming partners.

During the workshop, using the ideation prompts, we share ideas of how we might create content, based on the literature review and discovery research.

General step-by-step for running the workshop...

During the workshop itself, we capture ideas of how we might speak to our reader, based on what we learned from the literature review and discovery research.

The one thing to make this workshop a success...

Structured brainstorming or ideation relies on the structure that you compose. Invest time in intentionally creating that structure.

Our collective time amounts to many hours! In this vein, whenever our team gathers for a workshop such as this one I feel responsible for ensuring that our collective time is used efficiently. I’ve found that intentional, but loosely held, structure facilitates what I see as an efficient shared time.

Other considerations/templates/guides for doing one...

You know your team or audience best. Create a structure that’s right for them!

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Agenda-setting brainstorms

By Janice Wong, Principal UX Researcher at Amazon UX Lab

What is an agenda-setting brainstorm?

An agenda-setting brainstorm is a structured meeting that brings clarity and clear expectations to brainstorms, which can traditionally be too whimsical with inconsistent outputs, stunting the would-be collaboration between teams.

I use this workshop when...

I want to align stakeholders on a shared goal, level-set about research's ability to provide insights for business questions, and make the sessions feel productive and next-step-setting. These can transform brainstorming into agenda-setting ideation.

Discover Janice's 5 essential tips for successful agenda-setting brainstorms

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Positive pressure workshops

By Bob Konow, Experience Design Research Director at Bounteous

What is a positive pressure workshop?

A positive pressure workshop is a session with researchers and stakeholders to align on next steps/initiatives. These meetings are designed to put things in motion and get everyone on the same page.

I use this workshop when...

No one can agree on anything and we’re at a stand still in the process.

Materials/prep before starting this workshop...

Goals. You need goals. This may be what you need to get the project moving or what the stakeholder could benefit most from to get everything rolling. If the stakeholders are open to it, starting with an OKR or smart goals activity can work to articulate the outcomes.

If you find yourself having to use this workshop technique you probably have a sense of what can shake the cobwebs off. Setting up a blank Miro board or some screens in Figma to pregame depending on the necessary outcomes.

Go through any previous sessions, workshops, research and try to find the one or two issues that if resolved can breakthrough.

General step-by-step for running the workshop…

It is sometimes beneficial to wrap the tense activities in with other activities or readouts. The basic steps:

  1. Address the issues that have brought the group to this point and what the singular goal is of the workshop. Rearticulate the collaborative nature of the workshop.
  2. Outline the goals or goal activities to articulate the problem.
  3. Run the goal activity (if necessary)
  4. If everyone can agree on the goals, it is possible to move into mapping activities.
How might this workshop "work" remotely...

Cameras on! I have found it beneficial to have a colleague paying attention to people’s reactions to the activities and maintaining a chat backchannel. If one stakeholder is looking upset, eye rolling, or more subtle cues it is important to inform the facilitator to address the energy or person directly.

The one thing to make this workshop a success...

A line in the sand. Showcase the importance of having everyone be aligned on a common goal for moving forward. Explain to the stakeholders that this is necessary for overall success.

Other considerations/templates/guides for doing one...

This isn’t for everyone and there are a lot of considerations to take into account.

  • First, it is important to have a strong relationship with the people you are working with in these sessions. If this is a new relationship this can be too abrasive.
  • Second, when it comes time to agree together, it is still a negotiation. Dot voting or other techniques can help but also derail all the progress with very prickly teams.
  • Third, keep it simple. Trying to do too much with tense teams can increase stress. Utilizing default templates and individual methods to get to simple goals and outcomes is the benefit of this workshop.
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Ideation workshops

By Nikki Anderson-Stainer, Founder & Managing Director at User Research Academy

What is an ideation workshop?

A session to spark innovation and encourage team creativity. I’ll often use them to generate novel or new product experience ideas.

I use this workshop when...

I want to light a fire in my stakeholders and create a link between their questions, my insights, and the goals we're all trying to meet. Ideation workshops can transform stakeholders into collaborators and build empathy for your research practice, increasing investment into user-centered insights gathering techniques.

Read more about Nikki's ideation workshop strategies

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Idea stretcher workshops

By Pam Hamilton, Author of The Workshop Book and Supercharged Teams

What is an idea stretcher workshop?

A session to come up with ideas as far-fetched as possible and reel them back into something attainable. This is to help generate new ideas without the restrictions of “Is this even feasible?” It encourages creativity within a cognitive sandbox.

I use this workshop when...

The idea stretcher tool is a great way to take the obvious, stretch it far, then bring it back into the realms of the realistic. It is particularly good for allowing otherwise cautious or very rational people to safely push ideas beyond the possible, then bring them back to the feasible.

When you are building on past successes, or ideas that are already “good enough”, there is a temptation to be too safe because you have ways of working that are successful and so we don’t stretch ourselves or the ideas enough.

In situations like this you need to help teams go beyond the obvious and into the extreme to make sure they are being as ambitious with their thinking as possible.

The worst thing you can do is incrementally improve ideas from the obvious, little by little, because you are already starting from a low point of originality. Far better to use the obvious idea, go easy with it, then bring it back into the realms of possibility.

Materials/prep before starting this workshop:
  • Print or draw the template on at least an A0 (flipchart) size, or larger on an entire whiteboard or wall if you have the space (landscape orientation)
  • Have three main “good enough” ideas ready
  • Get your workshop group together, preferably three people per template
  • Create multiple templates if you have more people, so that each group of three has one template between them
  • You can give each group the same three ideas (this is great, to see how each of them stretches them differently), or give each group a different set of ideas to work on
  • Each person should have a Post-it Notebook and a Sharpie
  • Please note that the order of filling in each column in the template is important, they are not just left to right.
  • If you are drawing the template yourself, it is important to keep the column order as ADCB from right to left, as there’s a powerful psychological instinct in going to the extreme on the left before coming back to the safer left hand columns.
General step-by-step for running the workshop...
  1. Ask everyone to write the three initial “good enough” ideas in column A.
  2. Then working idea at a time, take the first idea, and move to column B (far right hand column).
  3. Each person writes at least one post-it of a completely crazy, impossible or extreme version of that initial idea, if anything was possible, if there was as much money or time as you could wish for, or if the stars aligned. Think big! As many post-its as you like.
  4. Then each person shares their post-its, sticking them in the box in column B.
  5. Take some time to see if any of their crazy ideas are similar to each other or can be combined. See if you can work out main themes for these ambitious, impossible thoughts.
  6. Then, using those as a start point, work back to translate each theme, idea or thought into something more possible, though still very stretching, and certainly innovative. The team could create 2-3 “Innovative” options in that column.
  7. Finally, use the ideas in column C to create some “ambitious” ideas in column B, those that actually might be feasible in the next few years.
  8. Do this in turn for each of the three ideas. Don’t get too hung up on which idea goes into which column, it’s intended to be a quick paced, creative exercise, not a rational debate about whether something fits in column C or D—put them in both if you don’t agree, work it out later.
  9. You may find that you create some completely new ideas that build on the Initial ideas, or you stretch, flesh out or make the Initial ideas far better.
  10. When all the teams are done, present the ideas to each other, and vote on your favourites to take forward, writing them up as new ideas to move forward with.
How might this workshop "work" remotely...

This works perfectly if you paste the JPEG template we’ve provided up on Mural, or even make columns in a Google Doc for people to collaborate on. So long as they are clear on the order of the columns (going from obvious-extreme-innovative-ambitious), it works.

The one thing to make this workshop a success...

Make sure you’ve got three “good enough” ideas to begin with and have agreed which ones those are. You need to start with something solid, don’t start with any old idea or ideas that are too early, or you risk creating a weak foundation.

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Research planning workshops

By Samaher Ramzan, UX Researcher at 1Password

What is a research planning workshop?

A session to get your team involved in the research process as early as possible to ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals.

I use this workshop when...

I need to bring team members and various stakeholders together to align on the goals of a project. Being clear on the reasons for conducting a study, potential hypothesis and how we measure success are key items to determine during this time. This workshop will answer if and how people plan to use insights from the project. It will help identify if there are any pre-existing assumptions or hypotheses as well as highlighting any expectations the team might have going into the project.

Materials/prep before starting this workshop...

For this workshop you will need to begin by determining who needs to be involved in the session. This will vary depending on the project, but I like to include anyone who might want to stay informed during the project, whether it’s just through updates or actually participating in research sessions. Next, you will need to list out the questions you want to ask (I have listed a few examples at the end). Lastly, you will need to prepare some materials to write on and with such as post-its and markers for everyone in the session to write down their thoughts.

General step-by-step for running the workshop...
  1. Find and schedule a time slot which works for everyone (I schedule around 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on how many questions I want to cover).
  2. Prepare the environment by writing out the questions and arranging a marker and post-its for every person.
  3. Once everyone is present, introduce the purpose of the workshop and align everyone around a shared goal so that everyone is engaged throughout.
  4. Read aloud the first question, set a timer of 2-3 minutes per question, and let everyone write down their thoughts.
  5. After each question, I often ask if anyone wants to share what they’ve written which tends to lead to thoughtful discussion.
  6. Conclude the workshop by thanking everyone for their time and participation.
  7. At the end of the session find time to summarize the thoughts and ideas which came about for each of your questions.
How might this workshop "work" remotely...

I would suggest collaborative tools like Figjam or Miro to replace physical materials like post-its and markers. Figjam has a timer feature as well which is super handy for this activity. Share the link with your team ahead of the session and then work on it together while in a video call.

The one thing to make this workshop a success...

Allocating the right amount of time for a session like this is key and it often depends on the amount of questions you have and how many people are in the session. At the end of the workshop ask yourself if you have the information you need to move forward with the project. If not, consider scheduling a follow up session.

Other considerations/templates/guides for doing one...

I’ve listed a couple questions here in case they might be helpful (I expect these to vary case by case):

  • Fast forward to the future, we have the insights from this project. How do you see yourself using them?
  • What are upcoming projects and/or goals for you and your team?
  • What is an ideal timeframe for you and your team and why?
  • How would you like to be kept up to date on the project?
  • How would you like to be involved in the project?
  • Do you have any hypothesis or assumptions at this point?
  • Are there any specific items you expect from this project and it’s outcomes?
  • How could this project look if we aimed 10x higher?
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Ben is the product evangelist at dscout, where he spreads the “good news” of contextual research, helps customers understand how to get the most from dscout, and impersonates everyone in the office. He has a doctorate in communication studies from Arizona State University, studying “nonverbal courtship signals”, a.k.a. flirting. No, he doesn’t have dating advice for you.

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