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.
Drew Mackie and I ran two sessions of the Engagement Game yesterday at the Together We Can conference organised by the Home Office - and generally felt that it went pretty well with about 15 people in one workshop and 20 in the other.
The format was similar to the first session we ran with Civil Servants back in February. We first invented a scenario - a goal for the engagement process. In one case it was illegal use of motorbikes on open space and in another "youth nuisance". The task was then to plan a process by which a whole range of different interests - from government departments through to local groups - might be involved in tackling the issue.
The go-between wears out a thousand sandals, according to a Japanese proverb. In deepest Holloway last week that fate befell those playing the role of councillor in our game simulating the government's new neighbourhoods policy.
As conference organiser Kevin Harris reports, the game aimed to simulate what will happen in a few years when "double devolution" takes hold, and public service delivery moves down the ladder beyond councils to offer more contracting opportunities to nonprofits, and more opportunities for active citizens.
Drew Mackie and I were relieved when participants readily agreed to move from presentations to interaction, to form groups, and develop descriptions of fictitious (but pretty realistic) neighbourhoods. To spice things up, they threw in plenty of problems and then passed the challenge to another group, while inheriting someone else's neighbourhood. After that, their task was to come up with ways in which different agencies, organisations and community groups would plan and carry out improvements. It was a revised version of our first run last November.
I'm looking forward to the conference on neighbourhood governance and community engagement organised for CDF by Kevin Harris next month. If that sounds bit challenging, but be assured that Drew Mackie and I will aim to liven things up with our Neighbourhood Governance Game. As Kevin reported previously, we had a lot of fun with a dry run last November, when groups invented semi-fictitious neighbourhoods and then planned improvements together .... or not very together.
Last's night Salon about public participation at the Civic Trust went really well ... subject of course to any contrary opinions participants might wish to add below. Our engagement technique was simple and well-tested - ply people with lots of free wine* and encourage them to circulate. We added a few props ... over-sized badges, and flags.
The idea of the badges was that people added a few words about things they might wish to discuss with others. My designer friends at the Civic Trust took to the idea enthusiastically, and provided people with mini-placards which certainly did the job effectively.
The flags idea was something Drew Mackie and I have done before to help people cluster into groups ..... find a few other people with a shared interest and you get a paper flag to write your interest on and wave to attract more people.
In the event everyone was so gregarious that not much was needed to encourage circulation. We got into the appropriate frame of mind right from the start with some excellent jazz piano from Charles Condy, husband of the Trust's Heritage Days Manager Katya.
Neighbourhood forums are one of the methods for local participative democracy promoted by UK central and local government - but what do they mean in practice? We found out by inviting people to invent a place, create a forum, and tell its lifestory - all within an hour.
As Kevin Harris has mentioned on his Neighbourhoods blog, we both ran a little storytelling game this week on the theme of how to set up a local forum. It went really well, proving to me anyway that an hour's conversation among a few interested people can provide as many insights as a manual that probably won't be read much anyway.
The occasion was a Quest Trust networking event, and the reason for the particular game was that UK central and local government is pushing hard their local:vision policies for more effective citizen engagement in neighbourhoods.
One mechanism for this will be establishing neighbourhood forums to discuss local issues and action.