Uncovering knowledge and assets


By the end of this unit you will have completed exercises that will create:

  • A cultural probe - cultural probes work by revealing small insights into peoples’ lives, which can then inspire a group to come up with new ideas
  • A session plan - a place to think about and plan your individual sessions

Building a dialog

Leading groups online When you have confirmed the idea for the project and who will be in the co-production team, it is time to start thinking, developing ideas, and come up with a plan to make change.

Facilitating opportunities for people to get together and create dialogue is at the heart of co-production. At Iriss, we call these opportunities ‘workshops’, but they are also called gatherings, meetings, sessions, skill shares and seminars. These workshops can be in-person, or as is the case with this course, using digital or other methods as discussed.

There is a lot to learn about online facilitation. We could have written a whole course on the subject. Luckily we don’t have to as Train for Change has created a free comprehensive guide.

Facilitating online

Running group sessions online may be the best way to have conversations. Outside the Box has put together a fantastic set of tips for keeping inclusion, rights and diversity at the heart of our online community events.

Inclusive online events: our top tips

Adapted from Outside the Box guidance (19 May, 2020) ‘Outside the Box’

Accessible communication

Make sure your communication about the event is available in plain text. See our blog on online access for some more tips. Birds of Paradise Theatre has an Accessible Marketing Toolkit with lots more information.

Different ways to take part

Respect that people have different needs and might participate in different ways. Be flexible and non-judgmental when people don’t engage in the way you expect. Let people choose what works best for them.

Explain how the event will work

Sharing what will happen and how to take part in the event can help people feel confident. Give participants the information they need before the event, or as it begins. Share the agenda or event plan, and any ‘online etiquette’ like muting your microphone when not speaking.

Introduce yourself with your name and pronouns

Just like in person, introducing yourself is a chance to set a friendly, welcoming tone. Share a little about who you are and what you do. Some groups really appreciate when event hosts share their gender pronouns. You can do this aloud or by changing your name in the online call. If you have a pet cat or dog you could introduce them too!

Give people low-stress ways to engage

Taking part online can be overwhelming, so try not to put people on the spot. People might benefit from listening, even if they are not up for speaking. Think about including one-to-one chats, individual reflections, and games which use visuals or movement rather than dialogue.

Intersectional thinking about inclusion

People bring their whole selves into events, including multifaceted identities which shape their experiences. For example, disabled women’s experiences of sexism in society don’t happen in isolation to their experiences of disability. Those experiences are also affected by factors like age, religion, sexuality and economic position. Removing barriers means thinking about how forms of privilege and oppression intersect. Listen to people, and don’t assume you know everything about their identities and experience.

Comfort breaks

It’s important to give people the chance to get a drink, go to the bathroom, stretch – whatever they need to be comfortable during the event. There should be fifteen minute break at least every 2 hours. You can also encourage participants to drop in and out, or step away from the screen when they need.

Use content warnings and encourage choice

If the event content or conversation touch on sensitive topics that could be upsetting or triggering, it’s best practice to let everyone know in advance. Share a written or spoken ‘content warning’ so people know what topics will come up. Try to make it easy for participants to opt-out of activities and choose how to take part.

Content which reflects everyone’s needs

The content should be useful and interesting for everyone who might take part. Try to choose activities and discussion topics which participants don’t need special background knowledge or skills for. If you use images, videos or stories, think about how your media choices can reflect and value the diversity of communities.

Balancing who speaks

It’s important that everyone has an equal chance to share and be heard. As we can’t sense body language as well online, it can be harder to know when to start and stop talking. Sometimes politely interrupting to move the conversation on is ok.

Think about making participation easier for people who feel less confident in the group. You could do a circle round, use small groups (like Zoom meeting rooms) or invite input by chat.

Starting the online event

Joining online events can be confusing, especially if it’s for the first time. There are a few ways to make it comfortable for everyone while you’re setting up and starting the event.

Supporting participants to join the event
  • Welcome people warmly as they join. Think about creating positive first impressions of the event – does it look friendly? Is key information communicated in a helpful way?
  • People might join at different times. You could share a warm-up activity that people can do while waiting for the event to start – such as introducing themselves in the chat.
  • If there are two facilitators, one could respond to questions in the chat and help participants join in.
How to take part
  • If you’re using slides, the first few slides can explain the online etiquette for the event. For example, asking everyone to ‘mute’ their microphones when not speaking.
  • Be clear and explicit about what’s expected. For example, participants might not know whether it’s ok to interrupt, or if they should stay for the whole event. Let people know the plan for the event, how they can interact and ask questions, and what time breaks will be. This can help if anyone’s feeling uncertain about how to take part.
  • ‘ I appreciate when the unspoken rules and expectations about how to take part are made clear. It’s also helpful when participants get a chance to suggest changes which could make it easier to take part.’ - Leon, Outside the Box
  • You could create space to discuss any hopes and expectations for the event, as well as what everyone can do to make it go well. This can be a good space to talk about what respect and equality mean in practice, and to address any barriers in the space.
Creating a caring group dynamic
  • Wherever they take place, events should be safe and enjoyable for everyone. Try to create events which value and nourish everyone’s contribution.
  • Include Icebreakers and comfort breaks
  • Warm-up activities can get people engaging with each other and their environments. As well as building a friendly group dynamic, this can make online events feel a bit less virtual.
  • Short introductions or reflections in a circle: give everyone a prompt, like ‘your name, gender pronouns, and one thing you’ve enjoyed this week’. Pass to the next person by name.
  • Check in with pictures: ask everyone to draw a face, picture of weather (sunny, rainy, etc.) showing how they’re feeling, and then share it with the group.
  • Ask people to touch something in their environment which is: green, pink, cold, soft, spiky etc. Everyone shares the last example with the group.

As you would offline, set a 5-10 minute break roughly every hour and encourage people to stretch, get tea, or do whatever they need to engage comfortably. This can make it easier for people balancing caring responsibilities or other tasks at home.

Addressing barriers to feeling included

  • Creating an inclusive dynamic can often involve addressing imbalances in power and access in the group. When planning an event, reflect on who it will work best for and who might experience more barriers. How will the event include people who are less connected in the community already, or have more difficulties getting online? Work together with people who are experiencing barriers or feeling less included to find solutions they think could work.
  • It can be harder to read peoples’ emotions and energy levels in virtual events. Take care around activities which touch on difficult experiences or situations. If possible, have an extra facilitator on hand to support people, Training for Change’s online facilitation tools include ideas for checking in with groups’ emotions online.
  • Finally, use content warnings. As in offline events, make it clear or ask permission before sharing content which might be triggering or upsetting to participants.

Ideas for creative engagement

There are lots of ways that you can work with your group to elicit ideas and create connecting conversations. These range from quite traditional ways of working to things that are a little more out of the box. We have come up with some ideas – have a think about how they could be applied to your project. You can treat this as a springboard for your own way of doing activities.


You can use photography in many ways to help collect information, research and gain insight into the day-to-day lives of your group. There are digital and analogue ways of doing this. You can ask people to use their mobile phones to take pictures and transfer the files to you using WhatsApp or email. You can also post disposable cameras to participants and ask them to use them and send them back to you for development. The way in which you use photography can be different depending on your project aims. Get inspired by exploring projects by Photovoice.

Diaries and journaling

Writing is a great way for people to share their ideas and thoughts in a group. You can ask group members to take part by keeping a journal or a structured diary for any length of time depending on the needs of your project. It is important to consider what kind of diary would suit the group. It could be visual, video, photo based, written, or spoken and recorded as voice notes on a phone etc. Be clear about what you will do with the content of the diaries and make sure that you are clear about consent practices around people’s work. It is important when it comes to diaries and journaling that you are in regular contact with your group to encourage them to stay motivated to complete the tasks. Part of this will come from their awareness of the value of the project and the way in which their work is going to contribute. Get inspired by The Scottish Recovery Network’s Write to Recovery project.


you can use interviews in your group in a formal or informal way to gather information and share experiences. Group members can interview one another. It can be helpful to frame this within an exercise that gives clear boundaries in order to give people confidence. You can also do interviews by email, for example, that gives people time to think about and write out their responses. This can pose challenges for some people and can be a lot of work. The most common way to conduct interviews is to do so by phone, mobile or landline, or through your laptop or smartphone using WhatsApp, Skype or even texting.


You can use video in lots of ways with your group to encourage participation and share progress. You could ask participants to submit video blogs, to video things in their day-to-day life if they are relevant to the project, or to video interview one another. You can also use video to share the activities you would like participants to do or even track your project progress using a YouTube channel or other video sharing platform. It may be that your project has specific aspects that could incorporate video. For example, projects exploring safe cycling could use cameras, such as a GoPro camera to video people’s cycling experiences. Video platforms such as TikTok can be fun too.


There are lots of different apps available for all kinds of situations and experiences. It may be that your project could benefit from the use of an app. For example apps, like Strava that track where your participants go on a walk – what they do could be a really useful way of prompting discussion and engaging people. This obviously has to be a measured approach and it would be important to consider the use of people’s data and how to manage it.

Cultural probes

The idea of cultural probes comes from design research. It is a technique used to inspire ideas and give insight to direct design processes. They serve as a means of gathering inspirational data about people’s lives, values and thoughts. They often take the form of physical objects or kits that are posted to participants that they can then complete in their own time. You can get really creative with cultural probes and incorporate many other methods that we have discussed in your cultural probe kit. You can create a cultural probe yourself in a very basic way that contains objects that you may have around you in the office or or can buy cheaply. You could also – if you have the budget to engage a designer to support you – create bespoke cultural probes that will help your project and align with your branding. While it can be nice to have slick and well designed products, the value of the information you get back will not necessarily depend on this. It is more likely to be linked to the level of engagement that people feel and how well supported they are to participate.

Practical exercises

  • Create a cultural probe - cultural probes work by revealing small insights into peoples’ lives, which can inspire a group to come up with new ideas
  • Session plan - a place to think about and plan your individual sessions

Read, listen, watch

  • Leading Groups online by Jeanne Rewa and Daniel Hunter. This is a down-and-dirty guide to leading online courses, meetings, training, and events during the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 has created new challenges for facilitators and educators. Jeanne and Daniel walk you through their top ten tips for leading sessions online, as well as interactive tools you can lead online, a simple process for moving your in-person work online, and answers to commonly asked questions.
  • More information about cultural probes and designing cultural probes.
  • The session lab library of facilitation techniques to find the right tool for your next session. You can filter activities by the tag ‘#remote-friendly’ to find activities that will work for your project

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