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Facilitating a Ketso Workshop

Once you have a workshop plan, facilitating is simply the process of guiding participants though the various stages, questions and activities in a timely fashion.

Ketso helps take the pressure off the facilitator, providing structure and an easy way to guide participants through a process. It is, however, important to introduce the kit and each stage of the process simply and clearly. There are a few useful hints for running a Ketso workshop which will help make things go smoothly. These are discussed below.

The role of a facilitator

  • A facilitator acts as a guide, introducing the process and showing participants a few key things they need to know so that they can start to develop ideas by themselves. The facilitator’s job is to create the space for participants to share their thinking, and to make sure that everyone has a say. They are not there to provide the ideas for discussion, but instead to provide clarity about the purpose of the workshop and how it will be run. They should pay attention to the timing and the workshop plan, to make sure that all the key aspects are covered.

    If this is your first time using Ketso, we suggest that you have a practice run of a simple workshop with friends, family or colleagues, to try out these hints and tips before you run a workshop with a large group.

  • No matter what the size of the group, it is a good idea to have one person who is in overall charge of managing the timing and shifts between stages of a workshop. With larger groups, you may wish to have the help of one or more assistants, who can move around the room and check that everyone has understood the process, answering any questions and making sure participants have what they need. We have run workshops with over 200 people in this way, with one overall facilitator (using a microphone with slides on a screen to remind people of the stage of the workshop).

    A good rule of thumb for larger groups is to have an assistant for every 3 – 5 tables. If this is not possible, large groups can be managed with fewer people, but it is advisable to make sure all materials are set up ready to go in advance, and to pay close attention to your plan to ensure everything is brought out in a timely fashion.

    If your workshop is for a small group, it is possible to run it without a dedicated facilitator – i.e. someone who is only paying attention to the workshop process and not involved as a participant. You still need one member of the team in charge of time-keeping and moving between the stages. This is easier if there is only one table, e.g. eight or less people, and is not recommended for more than two tables.

    If there is only one group, it is likely that the facilitator will be sitting at the table with the participants. In this case, it is important to make sure that the facilitator doesn’t dominate the conversation, or end up acting as a scribe. Encourage the participants themselves manage the process as much as possible, and try to prevent them from looking to the table facilitator for too much guidance, or for validation of the ideas.

Getting off to a good start

  • It is essential to have a good introduction to the aims and process of your workshop. It is also important to introduce the kit itself and its components, so that participants get a clear idea of what to do with each piece. Remember that whilst Ketso is easy to use, it is likely to be unfamiliar to many people.

    It helps to demonstrate each piece of the kit and how it is used, and to hold up and show each piece as you introduce it. A few simple key messages will help to orientate participants to the kit.

    • Everybody has a pen and some leaves
    • Write or draw one idea per leaf
    • There are different coloured leaves to ask different questions
    • Write on the coloured side of the leaf
    • Only use the water-based pens, so the leaves can be re-used
    • For each stage, we will ‘think, then share, then discuss’ – you will have a few moments to develop your ideas on your own, then you will be sharing the ideas with the group


    For each new stage, you need to introduce the new colour of leaf, and what the colour stands for (i.e. what question is being asked).

    You can download and adapt PowerPoint slides for introducing Ketso here.

  • Introduce one element of the kit at a time

    It is a good idea to introduce each element of the kit one by one, so participants don’t get overwhelmed and are able to focus on what you are asking them to do.

    A warm-up exercise to introduce the leaves and how to write on them always helps. Participants can then just read out the leaves and place them on a small felt without worrying about where they go. You may suggest that people cluster similar ideas close together and ideas that are different further apart.

    It is generally a good idea to limit the number of leaves for a warm-up exercise, asking people to take one or two leaves to write their ideas.

    Use one just colour leaf at a time

    It is a good general rule of thumb to only use one colour of leaf at a time, as this helps people focus on the question in hand and reduces confusion. We suggest you only put one colour leaf out on the tables to start with, so that all participants see is one colour, a plain felt and some pens.

    Start with the branches on the main felt covered, so participants can’t see them to begin with

    You can use a Mini Ketso felt for this, plain side up. This fits over the branches and can be used for a warm-up exercise.

    After the warm –up exercise (if you have one), introduce the main topic and ask participants to start writing leaves. Do this before uncovering the branches. Once they have written some leaves at the start of the main exercise, you can uncover the felt (or ask people at the tables to do this if you have lots of tables) and ask participants to see where their ideas fit on the felt.

    If you don’t have a mini Ketso felt, you can fold the main felt in half and then unfold it when it is time to share the ideas, moving the centrepiece from the edge to the centre to make sure people are clear what the focus of the workshop is.

  • Keeping the branches hidden helps ‘keep it simple’, as you introduce just one stage of the process at a time. This is especially important if you are working with people with learning difficulties or anxiety, though we find it is helpful with all sorts of groups.

    It also allows participants to develop their initial ideas before seeing the themes you have provided. This enables people to start thinking along their own lines, then to relate their ideas to the themes on the shared workspace, rather than worrying about getting the answers ‘right’.

    This has the advantage of allowing ideas to surface from the mind-set and thinking that the participants start with when they hear of the topic. Surprising new themes and connections may emerge that you had not considered. You can often learn more this way than if people are trying to come up with ideas that fit into the pre-prepared branches.

    At the same time, the process of working out where their ideas ‘fit’ can help participants see patterns and tease out different understandings. The key thing is to make it clear that there are no right or wrong answers; the branches are just there to help make sure we consider all the key aspects and to structure our thinking. Remember, It is important to have at least one blank branch so new themes can emerge.

Encouraging an effective group process

  • As well as managing the overall timing and flow of the workshop, a key role of a facilitator is to pay attention to the communication and activity at each table, ensuring that the instructions have been understood and the process flows smoothly.

    It is also important to have someone (who may be the same person, or a ‘table facilitator’) who is paying attention to the distribution of workshop materials, so that participants are supplied with the tools they need to carry out the task in a timely fashion (e.g. leaf bags are set out in advance of a shift in focus, there are enough pens on the tables).

    We have developed an acronym for a few key principles that you need to keep in mind whilst running a workshop, the BELL:

    • Balance of individual and group time
    • Everyone engaged
    • Listen
    • Look at the plan

    Guidance on applying the BELL in facilitation is given below.

  • At each new stage of the workshop, you should give participants a minute or two to develop their ideas on their own before sharing their ideas. We call this ‘Think, then share, then discuss’.

    This is important for many reasons: it allows everyone to develop their thinking before they are influenced by others’ ideas, and it ensures that everyone has some ideas to share, not just the confident and dominant speakers.

    Giving out the different coloured leaves in stages helps to ‘reset’ the process, so there is a balance of individual and group time throughout the workshop. You need to set the ground rule at the beginning, so participants know to expect this process at each stage.

    You may find that a few people keep talking despite the request to move on the next stage of the process. You may need to go to that table and remind those who are talking to make sure they write their ideas down on leaves, to make sure their ideas are captured and included in the final outputs.

  • You need to do a visual scan of the room to make sure that everyone has a pen and some leaves at the beginning, and at intervals throughout the workshop. On the rare occasions that you see a table where only a few people are writing, or someone is acting as a ‘scribe’, you need to remind the table that everyone should have leaves and add their own ideas to the felts, to make sure that we hear the ideas from everyone.

    You may also need to check that people are using the pens provided, not their own pens (which won’t wash off easily).

    You need to give the instruction that people should take it in turns to share their ideas, with one person reading one idea out and then placing it on the felt, then the next person reading one idea out and placing it on the felt, and so on.

    You can easily see if a group starts breaking this pattern, with one person dominating the process and putting all of their ideas on the felt without taking it in turns. If you do see this, remind the table that everyone needs to take it in turns and get all of their ideas down. Once the ideas are on the table, they can discuss them, create clusters and add detail.

  • You can tell a lot from listening to the sound levels in a room – if it goes quiet at a table, have they finished? Have they not understood the instructions?

    You can walk around the tables and listen in briefly to the conversation before moving on, seeing if you hear any signs of confusion, and giving people a chance to ask you questions if they want to.

  • As discussed in the How To ‘Preparing for a Ketso Workshop’, it is a very good idea to have a plan for your session. It is highly unlikely, however, that things will go exactly according to plan. You might let a particularly fruitful discussion carry on a bit longer than you had planned for. People may take longer coming back from a break than you had requested.

    You need to regularly look at your plan (whilst participants are getting on with the process) and check:

    • Where should I be by now? Am I on track?
    • Am I going to cover all of the key points?
    • If not, what can I skip or speed up to make sure that I do go through all of the key stages?

What else does the facilitator do?

  • At the beginning of a workshop it is a good idea to give an indication of roughly how long people will have for each stage. A good rule of thumb is that a stage of a Ketso process takes 10 – 15 minutes, so you can say it will be roughly 10 minutes per stage, to keep people focused.

    If you are using a bell, or other way of making a noise to get people’s attention to move on to the next stage, you should introduce this at the beginning. You may say something like: “When you hear the bell [ring], whoever is speaking has a moment to finish what they are saying. At the second ring it is time for silence, so I can introduce the next stage. Then we can keep moving through the process efficiently, so we finish on time”.

  • It is rare in a Ketso workshop that each group goes through every stage at the same rate. If you find that one group is finished before the others, and they are starting to drift off into side conversations, you can encourage them to further develop the ideas on their felt. You may prompt participants to give a bit more detail for some of the leaves: Can you give some examples of this, and write them on leaves to add to the felt? Can you develop some thoughts about how to achieve this idea?

    You can ask participants to come up with more ideas for branches that don’t have many leaves by them, or many ideas of a particular colour, e.g. Can you think of any more ideas of ‘what works’ for this branch? (You can use all of the colours that are already on the table at this stage).

    If you find that a group is moving especially slowly, you may need to go to their table and give them a hint that it is nearly time to move to the next stage, can they quickly read out and place the rest of their leaves, to make sure that no ideas are lost.

  • It is helpful to limit the number of leaves if you have a short session, or if you need to speed up a stage to get your timing back on track, so that people don’t feel that their ideas are being disregarded. Generally, if someone has written something down, they will want to place it on the workspace and discuss it!

    Another way to speed up the process is to make sure that everyone reads their leaf out and places it on the felt, without getting into discussion before all the ideas are on the table. You may need to encourage people to do this with a reminder of the overall process and the need to finish on time.

    It has to be noted that there will usually be some people who say there wasn’t enough time for discussion, no matter what length of workshop you run; it is often too short for one or two participants (especially those who are used to having their voices dominate), and very occasionally it is too long for one or two others. The key thing, however, is to make sure that everyone has their ideas on the table.

  • For participants who are unfamiliar with Ketso, it may help to briefly demonstrate at the table how bits of the kit work, for instance, showing how to point leaves at the branches, and how to point leaves at each other to create clusters of ideas. This helps people see patterns in the ideas, especially as the workshop progresses and more leaves are added – it is likely that leaves that come up in answers to later questions will relate to the earlier leaves, and it helps to be able to show these connections though clustering the leaves.

  • In each Ketso kit we provide action cards. These are for you to give to participants towards the end of the workshop, for them to write their own ‘take-away’ actions. We find that participants often appreciate having a reminder to take with them of something important that they got out of the workshop. This also helps build a collective sense of leading to action.

    When you run out of action cards, we will replace them for free (in response to a few quick questions so we can gather useful feedback to help us continue to improve Ketso). Just get in touch when you are running low.

  • The facilitator can suggest that some leaves are moved to aid clarity. You do need to do this sensitively, not just diving in and moving leaves, but instead asking questions and giving prompts for thought – for example:

    • If these ideas are related to each other, then they can point at each other in a cluster to show that they are related?
    • What if this leaf was on this branch? What else would that tell us?
    • Would this make sense here; can I move this here?

    It is important to give the idea that whilst everyone can take charge of moving leaves around, this needs to be done in conversation with the person who put the leaf down.

    Asking what the placement means can help tease out deeper understanding (or sometimes misunderstandings, especially about language and what people meant by particular ideas).

    If a group is struggling with where to put an idea, as it seems to fit on one more than one branch, you could ask if there are two different ideas suggested by the fact that this leaf might be on more than one branch. This could lead to another leaf being written to give more detail. You can demonstrate using the blank white icons to make connections between ideas on different branches, putting an icon by each of the connected ideas, and using letters to show the connections.

    A good metaphor for the role of the facilitator here is like being the wind rustling in the leaves, you can help move leaves around to show new patterns.

  • Ketso can be a great tool for interviews and coaching – see for instance this blog on using a mini Ketso felt in interviews in research in Ghana. Advantages include:

    • a way to encourage ideas generation (ideas start to flow onto the leaves)
    • a way to see patterns between the ideas, as they are able to be moved around and can be seen on the felt, as opposed to being talked about and then disappearing in the air
    • a way of enabling participants  to reflect back on their ideas – this may include ‘sorting’ their ideas into categories
    • as a way of recording ideas for future reference
    • encourages discussion between participants about the ideas (if there is more than one participant)

    In a small group setting, participants might be a bit reluctant to start writing on leaves, rather than just talking to the  facilitator, coach, mentor, reviewer (in the case of a performance development review) or interviewer. they may occasionally also just ask the facilitator to write the leaves for them like a scribe, which runs the risk of having the words interested through the scribe rather than coming directly from the participants. There may be times when this would be appropriate, such as with a participant with severe learning difficulties, who was illiterate or had difficulty with writing, but generally we advise where possible to have people write their own ideas on leaves. If writing is difficult, we like to encourage people to draw a symbol or simple picture, and explaining it, and whilst they are explaining it – the facilitator can write up the words in a leaf to place alongside the image.

    To get off to an easy start and encouraging writing, it might be a good idea to start with a very quick and easy warm-up– where you ask the participant/s just to write 2 – 3 ideas on leaves about something fairly easy – such as:

    • what you like about where you live / work / study
    • something you are good at / enjoy doing
    • something interesting / pleasant that you noticed on your way here today

    This could be related to the topic under discussion (e.g. write down 3 words that comes to mind when you think of x) or it could be quite generic.

    You can ask the participant/s to share these on the back of the felt you are using just to get used to writing on leaves and sharing them.

    It can feel a bit awkward for the facilitator and participant alike to have the facilitator just sit there at the same table, doing nothing whilst the other person (or persons) write on leaves. For many settings, it is important that the facilitator doesn’t ask leading questions or add in their own ideas. It can be really helpful, however, for the facilitator to have something to do, so the other person doesn’t feel too rushed and watch over.

    We have found it can be helpful for the facilitator to take some leaves and just write one or two questions or reflections (these may even be the labels you will use the branches, or interview questions, written up as our go along rather than in advance), that you can use these to prompt discussion). Just having the facilitator occupied with their hands and a few leaves can make the atmosphere more relaxed and conducive for the partners to write their ideas. An advantage of using leaves to record some ideas rather than a notebook is that it makes the situation feel more equal, and a bit less intimidated, but the facilitator needs to be very careful not to unduly influence the course of the discussion or add their ideas in a leading way (other than asking probing questions). Note you can also choose not to share all (or any) of the leaves, just keep them for your reference.

    Once the session has got going, the facilitator can use leaves to record reflections on / questions about the leaves that have first been put down (you may wish to use white comments cards to make it clear that these  are observations from the facilitator and not written by the participants. Practice restraint and make sure you write only one or two leaves (unless the process you are using makes more questions / comments appropriate). After the first round, the facilitator can also use leaves to capture any further comments or discussion that came out around sharing the leaves, so that the facilitator is writing at the same time as the participants, but only capturing the words of the participants to add to the felts.

    If you do a simple warm up exercise, you could possibly join in on the first exercise to help break the ice, but then make it clear that after this exercise, the key thing is for the participant to develop these ideas.

    It can simply help to have your notes with you as to the workshop process, so you can look at those and read them and make notes on them (even just scribbles!) so that you don’t seem to be staring at the participant/s whilst they are writing on their leaves.

You are Ready!

Now that you are ready to run a workshop, read our How To on ‘Maintenance & care of a kit’ for hints about quickly packing up your kit at the end of the workshop.

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