Up and talking!

This is our second blog about how we designed a Forum for 80 stakeholders involved in ocean observation across Europe to share thinking about how to develop a more integrated observing system.

The webinar that took place a week before the Forum itself set tone for the day.  It also meant that we could give plenty of space and time on the day for people to connect and do some good thinking together – and come up with concrete ideas for what should happen next.

For this to happen, people need to meet in a space where they can talk easily and move around. An auditorium with raked seating had been booked, but on our advice, the team found Area 42, an arts and meeting venue with large flexible spaces (and a plentiful supply of pinboards) that we were able to make our own.

Here’s our design and what happened on the day.

Designing for an ‘ecosystem’

Keeping in mind our ecosystem metaphor, the design of the Forum took people through five stages, physically moving from one stage another, in different parts of the venue:

  • Welcome! Up and talking – within 10 minutes of opening the Forum, people were up on their feet having mini-conversations (in response to prompt questions on the screen), starting to get to know each other and warm up for the day.
  • What brings us here – essential context for the discussions – three 12-Infographic chatminute presentations provided the global perspective on ocean observing, the need for an integrated system across Europe and how EOOS can respond to that need, leading into the critical questions for the Forum.  After this, there was a chance for people to share initial thinking – with reference to infographics on EOOS on the tables.
  • A walk around the 7 critical questions – everyone moved to a different area in the venue for a carousel poster session to familiarise with the 7 critical questions.  A host with each ‘critical question’ welcomed participants as they rotated round the posters, outlining and adding to the main issues in conversation with the visitors.
  • Focus in on the critical questions – participants chose which they wanted to focus on, and convened in small groups after lunch to share ideas and propose ways forward for EOOS.  Hosts facilitated the discussions, with the help of rapporteurs.  Key points were recorded onto large pre-prepared templates (and written up by the rapporteurs).


  • What are we thinking now? Funding is a core theme, and in the last part of the day a number of participants were invited to share their perspectives. Instead of the tables, the group returned to a large circle of chairs, with a moderated exchange in a ‘fishbowl’ at the centre. Closing reflections from a selection of stakeholders pulled together the emerging issues.

Tips and learning

You might be wondering where the facilitator was in all this?  In short, my role as the lead facilitator was up front as a guide to the day, each stage at a time, and keeping an eye on things from the side as the discussions got underway.  Plus of course the other things we facilitators do – from making changes in the moment through to moving the furniture.  Along with lots of hands-on support from the EOOS team and Pete, here are two of my main tips for being a solo lead facilitator for an event this size:

  • ‘Two heads are better than one’ – work with another facilitator in the design stage. Pete and I brought different but complementary perspectives and ideas that enabled us to put together a design that worked.
  • Define and devolve the roles – logistics, communications, hosting of small groups, ‘anchoring’ of large group sessions were all shared across the EOOS team and steering group.

My other two tips are for the small groups – hosts and templates

  • img_2069.jpgTopic hosts for the critical issues’ carousel and small groups gave context, focus and direction to these discussions. EOOS steering group willingly took on this role, with practical support from the team and facilitator.
  • Large (A0) printed poster templates for the poster carousel and small groups provided a)  summaries of key information and b) a means to capture key points.

Towards a cultural step change

There was a fantastic level of engagement throughout the day, continuing into the drinks reception afterwards.  This was the fruit of many months advocacy and communication by the EOOS team, visionary leadership and great team collaboration.

Without ocean observations we are living in the dark’ was stated at one of the group discussions, but ‘a cultural step change is needed to break the silos between multiple stakeholders’.  Several participants said how much they enjoyed the day, and the energy and sustained levels of attention throughout the day suggest that that cultural step change is well under way.

Do get in touch if you’re planning a large event and want some advice and/or facilitation!