Leah Goldstein Moses on Tips for Facilitating Active Participant Engagement

I’m Leah Goldstein Moses, Founder and CEO of The Improve Group and adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. The Improve Group’s evaluation practice embeds capacity building – building the skills, systems and tools needed for organizations to conduct evaluations. In the last few years, we teach more and more in academic and community settings.

To put it bluntly, when I was a novice teacher, I stunk: my pace, content, and activities were off mark.

Hot Tips (through observation, trial and error, and wise advice from veteran teachers).

  1. Learn about your audience. In a session at a leadership conference years ago, I mistakenly assumed that attendees were nonprofit leaders who just needed an overview about evaluation so they could delegate tasks to others. Instead, attendees were managers who would be directly involved in implementing evaluations. If I had been better prepared, I would have designed activities more focused on practical tips for evaluation. Now, I learn about attendees ahead of time by talking to session organizers, interviewing prior participants, or surveying attendees ahead of time.
  2. Set the learning agenda with participants to make sure the content is relevant. Depending on how the lessons are structured, I might ask them to share specific things they are working on via email ahead of time or have them start with an informal conversation in pairs about what they hope to learn. As ideas come in, I sort them (e.g., issues about design, data collection, and reporting) and adapt.
  3. Make expectations clear. At one of the very first workshops I taught, a woman right in front spent the entire session checking her email. It was a small group and her inattention was noticeable and distracting. Now, at the beginning of each session, I lay groundwork to help participants engage fully: Scheduled breaks will be substantial enough to check email or return calls and participants can step out if needed.
  4. Tell stories. You can give as much content as you want, but it needs to be clear how it can be applied to participants’ work. I’ve learned stories bring the content to life. Some are short vignettes to briefly illustrate something like non-response bias. Longer stories explore more complex issues, like cultural responsiveness. I encourage participants to share their own stories to help others understand what they are facing or model their successes.
  5. Use a rule of thirds. Students have different ways of hearing, processing, and thinking about using information. Time is divided equally between presentation, interactive large group activities, and individual or small group reflection. They also need time to rest; I build in a 15-minute break after 90 minutes of content.

Interested in further conversation? Join us at the conference: http://bit.ly/1MSzH95

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