Story on the wall

6. 9. 2018


We published the original post on the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation learning and networking blog.

How to create an immersive workshop experience, where your participants bathe in the juices of the workshop’s topics? Immersive doesn’t require virtual reality headsets, foremost it requires a story. Here a practical example:

For the DDLGN 2018 face-to-face event, we - Nadia von Holzen as facilitator and I as multimedia reporter - came up with a low-tech idea to tell the network’s background story: A timeline that portraits the network, its members, its achievements.

For your info: SDC’s face to face events are organized by the agency’s thematic networks, where participants exchange on the networks’ topics. In this case on democratization, decentralization, and local governance. This year’s event coincided with the network’s ten years anniversary.

The timeline

On the wall of the main event hall, we drew a horizontal line using a colorful scotch: a Washi tape. Each year with a different color. Below this timeline we asked the network core team to add key events, or publications in form of a picture or a short text. We then took Polaroid pictures of all participants on their arrival and added them above the line according to the year they joined the network.


Immerse into history

From the first step into a cave with ancient paintings on the wall, or into the Sistine Chapel you are enveloped by the story of the place. Though less monumental, the timeline – its images from past events and the participants’ faces – has a similar effect: The networks history, its achievements enter the hearts of the participants: They become aware of their part in the story.

Enrich the learning process

While moderating participants’ interactions and reflections, Nadia would come back – time again – to the timeline: For example, recalling a past event or a key document to which present interactions make reference. We both felt that the historic background heightened the thematic complexity. It enriched the discussions among participants. New ideas were anchored in history. They had a reason to emerge, because they are part of a process that didn’t just start with this event.


Reflect on your learning

One of Nadia’s key moderation tools is to let participants reflect on how their personal learning process feeds back into the network, changes their role as a member, or impacts their day-to-day job. The timeline played a key role in taking the participants on this meta-level journey. Without this visual tool, the participants would have struggled to let go of the immediate lessons assimilated and focus on the bigger picture: Reinforcing the network’s culture of learning and sharing.

Propel actors to take action

The last day of the workshop a list of next steps was proposed. Participants could subscribe to which activity they wanted to contribute with their expertise and time. The timeline serves here as a constant reminder and assurance, that their effort is not in vain. Their action will contribute to the network’s future story: a continuous enrichment of thematic expertise.

Do it yourself

Key to reap the most beautiful fruits from your timeline is to give it a presence, a role, in your workshop. Start by creating it yourself! Make it beautiful in your eyes. A visually appealing timeline will attract the participants’ attention. During the workshop, this attention should transform into an interaction with the timeline. For this you should keep the timeline in mind when you plan your workshop. For example, provide time for the participants to interact with it. Then during the event, make recurrent links to your timeline. For example, introduce the next workshop slot with a short backstory.

Yes, the timeline is all about the story: the story of a network, of a program, or of a theme. But don’t focus your story on the product or the output. Behind every good story is a hero. Thus, to create a time-line that touches your audience, tell your story through them, through the people.