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Preparing for a Ketso Workshop

Ketso makes running a workshop easy, but you do need to plan and prepare. Fortunately, there are many tried and tested ways of using Ketso, and lots of resources to help you plan a great workshop.

For any Ketso workshop, there are three main things to consider so that you have a smooth and successful experience

  1. Introducing and framing the workshop
  2. Developing a plan for your workshop
  3. Working out the practicalities

Introducing & framing the workshop

  • In order to get the most out of your workshop, it is important to be clear about why you are doing it. Here are some key questions to ask:

    • What do you (and / or your organisation) hope to get out of the workshop/s?
    • What kinds of people / stakeholders are you thinking of inviting?
    • What do you think they would like to get out of the workshop? What would success look like for them?

    Answering these questions will help you develop a good plan.

  • Think through how to introduce the workshop to participants, both for the invitation to attend, and on the day. Developing clarity about the purpose of the workshop will help you do this.

    It is important to give a clear introduction at the beginning of the workshop, of both the aims and the process. We find it is helpful to give participants a very simple overview of the key stages, a rough sense of how long each will take, when the breaks are, and the way the kit works. This allows them to see the whole picture of the workshop and know what is coming.

    It is also important to let participants know what will happen to the outcomes of the workshop, and if they will receive feedback on those outcomes.

    You can use these introductory slides (PowerPoint slides you can download and adapt). They include key messages that we find are useful for participants to hear, and have pictures to illustrate key points and the basics of how the Ketso kit works.

  • Each piece of a Ketso kit has been designed to enhance creative thinking and to encourage everyone to have an input in the process.

    Participants write their ideas and comments on re-usable, colour-coded ‘leaves’.

    At each new stage in a Ketso process, it is important to allow participants time on their own to develop their ideas (on the leaves) before sharing them with the group.

    Everyone has a (water-based) pen and leaves, so they  can develop their ideas and add them to the shared workspace. The different colours are used to ask different kinds of questions.

    Participants place their ideas (leaves) on a central felt workspace. The leaves stick to the felt, but can easily be moved. This means that they can be re-arranged and clustered as the conversation develops.

    The shape of the leaves means they can be pointed at each other and fit together to form clusters of similar ideas). This builds a visual record of the discussion as it takes place.

    The centrepiece on the felt workspace shows the main focus of the workshop. It is like the trunk of the tree. There are branches to help organise the ideas into themes.

    Participants point their leaves at the relevant branches, which ‘branch’ off from the core trunk, or focus.

    As the leaves build up around the branches, participants can see where there are a lot of ideas, and where there are gaps.

    They can easily review ideas generated by other groups, by comparing the leaves and patterns formed around the various branches at different tables. This enables shared learning amongst a larger number of people.

    Icons are used to highlight key points. This allows participants to give each other feedback, and to prioritise ideas.

    Ideas can be developed into an action plan, using the Ketso Grid or the smaller Ketso Planner to organise the ideas into timelines.

    There are Action Cards to give to participants at the end of a workshop so they can write their own action on to the cards to take away with them.

Developing a plan for your Ketso workshop

  • At the risk of stating the obvious, workshops tend to be more successful when the facilitator has a good plan than when they don’t. With experience, some basic ways of using Ketso become second nature, and it is possible to run a successful workshop with very little preparation time. This is not the same as not having a plan at all.

    A Ketso kit can be seen as a bit of hardware that lets you run different applications, or ways of running workshops. We call these applications the ‘ThinkingWare’ of the workshop. ThinkingWare basically comprises:

    • A main focus
    • Sequence of questions / activities
    • Themes relating to the main focus (branches)
  • Once you have worked out why you are running a workshop, and who it is for, it is time to consider the focus, or central topic, of the workshop. It is important to make this focus clear for your participants. This will be written on the centrepiece of the Ketso felts.

    See ‘Uses and Applications of Ketso’ to find out more about the different ways Ketso can be used.

    A workshop needs activities for participants to engage in, or it can easily degenerate into a frustrating ‘talking shop’. Due to the hands-on and structured nature of Ketso, activities are built into the process.

    A Ketso workshop proceeds in stages. Typically, these stages involve asking the group a question about the main focus, allowing them time to think and develop their ideas on their own, then share and discuss their ideas with each other, while recording them on the Ketso for everyone to see.

  • The most basic level of activities in a Ketso workshop is asking a series of questions using coloured leaves for the different questions, proceeding in sequence one  question at a time. We call this series of questions, plus the sequence in which they  are asked, a ‘Ketso Seed’. We call these seeds because when you plant them, they grow new ways of thinking.

    To plan your activities, you need to think through what questions you want to ask and what colours of leaves to use to represent them. To make it easy to plan a workshop, we have developed several core Ketso Seeds. They have been tried and tested in hundreds of workshops with thousands of people.

    These core Ketso Seeds are designed to:

    • Start with the positive, asking for example: What works? What is good about the situation?
    • Allow for creative thinking before thinking of challenges
    • Include a stage of developing solutions to challenges

    The Ketso Seeds can be adapted to many different workshop situations. The next two sections introduces the five core Seeds in more detail.

  • This section covers the core Ketso Seeds, showing the questions asked, the colour of leaf that is used to ask the question, and the metaphor behind the choice of colours. The metaphors make the sequence easier to remember. They also help build in key principles of effective stakeholder engagement to the design of the Seed.

    Explore & Plan

    This is the seed that we use the most often, and we get great feedback from customers who use this in many different scenarios. You can download a detailed workshop plan developed using the Explore & Plan seed here (word document).

    Review & Reflect

    The Review & Reflect seed is a variation of the Explore & Plan seed. It is used to review activities, programmes and events after they have happened. It contains elements of looking forward, to enable learning from experience. It is important to have a stage of creative thinking (green leaf) before looking at what didn’t go well, otherwise constructive and creative thinking can be inhibited by dwelling on what went wrong.

    You can download an example workshop plan for a session on an away day, which uses the Review & Reflect seed here (word document)..

    Feedback & Discuss

    The Feedback & Discuss seed is used to explore a project idea, evaluate a series of options, or to gain feedback on ideas or a strategy.

    The first stage encourages people to think of the positive aspects of the ideas / options, and ways to make the most of these positive aspects, before thinking of the negative aspects. Following the principle of always including a stage of creative thinking about ways to overcome challenges, the ‘grey leaf’ thinking is followed by a stage of developing ideas for overcoming the negative aspects.

    You can download a workshop plan for exploring careers options that uses this seed here.

  • Learn – Beginnings

    The Learn – Beginnings seed provides a great way to start a course or training session, getting participants to talk to each other and start the process of peer-learning. Exploring what students or trainees already know about a subject can help them to better connect with the themes and the material.

    You could do a table swap for the green leaf stage – developing ideas for ways to overcome challenges. In this way, a different group of people helps develop solutions for the challenges (always easier than solving your own problems). This is a great way to encourage shifts in attitude towards learning, and often helps students realise that they are all facing the same challenges.

    This seed can be adapted into a useful short exercise for problem solving later in a course, for instance if students are having difficulties with group work. You can do a quick exercise to ask what is going well in the group (brown leaves), then  ask  students to write down the key challenges (grey leaves) (but NOT to share them, instead leave them on the table). Ask groups to swap tables, then share the challenges from that the other group left behind, and place them on the felt. They then develop solutions to the other group’s challenges (green leaves). Once these ideas are shared on the felt, they return to their own table to read the solutions to their own challenges.

    Learn – Review

    Learn – Review is a seed you can use to review learning towards, or at the end, of a course or training session. The workshop helps students to see how far they have come. The gaps can be as revealing as the areas that are full of ideas!

    We find it useful to do a table swap for the green leaf stage of thinking, and ask a different group of students to suggest answers to the questions / places to look for information on the felt workspace. When the students come back to their own felts, they thus get to learn from other groups. This sequence also encourages participants to think of what they will do with the knowledge they have gained.

  • A Ketso felt has a series of branches coming off the centrepiece (which is where we suggest you write the focus). In addition to having a series of questions to guide the flow of a workshop, you can also develop a few themes to help participants structure the ideas they come up with in response to your questions.

    The branches provide structure for the ideas, just as a tree’s branches hold and spread out leaves, providing a framework for your workshop. They can be seen as sub-themes branching off from the central focus. They stay the same, no matter which question is being asked in the sequenced flow of the workshop.

    An example is shown below.

    The branches give a prompt for the full range of ideas that you wish people to consider, and provide a degree of structure for sharing their ideas. This is especially helpful when you have more than one group, to make it easier to compare and synthesise ideas between tables.

    Branches are like aspects of the central topic and as such, should be related to the main focus of the workshop. We recommend leaving at least one branch blank for ideas that don’t seem to fit, and to allow participants to develop their own themes.

  • We are frequently asked – what are the advantages and disadvantages of preparing the themes for the branches in advance, as opposed to just allowing participants to develop themes as they go along.

    As with many choices in facilitation, there are advantages to different approaches, which we set out below. We find that for very many circumstances, having some pre-prepare branches have many advantages, but we always recommend that you leave at least one branch blank for ideas that emerge in the discussion.

    See this how-to on running a Ketso workshop for advice on how and when to introduce the branches.

    Advantages of pre-prepared branches

    • Greater likelihood of covering all of the key themes – the branches can ‘stretch’ people’s thinking
    • Providing a degree of structure and a framework can spark more creativity and ideas, as the branches themselves suggest new avenues of thought
    • Easier and quicker for groups to compare their ideas between tables, and thus learn from each other
    • Easier to synthesise ideas from several groups (especially important if running a series of workshops)
    • It can take less time, as people start to place ideas against themes instead of spending time developing themes

    Advantages of blank branches

    • Allows you to explore an idea with no preconceived framework
    • Maybe more possibility for surprising emergent themes
    • Participants can feel more ‘ownership’ of the themes (but these may not be shared amongst the whole group if there is more than one table)
    • Quicker to prepare for a workshop (as you don’t need to think of themes or write them up in advance)

    However, the process in the workshop takes longer,and the discussion may lack focus. It is more difficult for groups to quickly compare ideas and to synthesise key points.

  • If you are planning about how to achieve and existing strategy or project, the aims of the strategy or project might make good branches, then you can explore how to achieve those aims.

    If you are using Ketso in a teaching or training setting, the themes of the course you are running are often a good starting point for the branches on the Ketso felt.

    You can look to see if Ketso already has a workshop plan similar to what you need. You can use or adapt the themes we have already developed. For instance, we have a generic set of branches for project planning that can be tweaked to suit many project planning scenarios, captured in the acronym: PARC:

    You can search for commonly used themes in the topic area – a bit of creative recycling of well-used frameworks is often a useful way to frame a workshop. Type your topic into a search engine and see what comes up. You can adapt and combine frameworks to suit your needs. For example, we have often used the New Economics Foundation’s ‘Five ways to well-being’ as themes for workshops related to health and wellbeing (always acknowledging the source!).

    We often find it helpful to simply ask people– friends, colleagues:  If you were running a workshop on this topic, what sorts of things would you be thinking of? What are the issues, key ideas?

  • We have a library of sample workshop plans, which you can download on the Downloads section. These have been developed through years of hands-on testing by the Ketso team and customers, and incorporate our thinking about key ideas on how to run a good workshop using Ketso.

    As well as showing the stages of a workshop, they give indicative timings and hints on running the workshop. They are Word documents, to make them easy to change and adapt to suit your purposes.

    The workshop plans have been designed using the Ketso ‘Workshop BASICS’ framework. This is a simple framework we have developed to lead you through the process of developing your ThinkingWare.

    If you haven’t already watched it, you may also find it useful to watch the 10 minute video about planning a workshop (in the left sidebar of this section). This goes through the BASICS of planning a workshop, and shows the key points discussed above in action in real workshop settings.

    You can download a simple template to help you develop a workshop using the BASICS framework here (word document).

Working out the practicalities

  • We are often asked about the ideal length of time for a workshop. We find this is 1.5 – 2 hours. This length of session allows you to go through a full ‘Ketso Seed’, plus a warm up, table swap, break and feedback at the end.

    The general rule of thumb to allow for decent discussion of each stage is to allow 10 – 15 minutes per stage (e.g. green leaves – creative thinking). If you want the whole stage to just take 5 minutes, you will need to limit the number of leaves (1 – 3 leaves per participant, depending on how big the group is, to allow for the time needed for everyone to read all their ideas out).

    You also have to approach this from the other end: How long have you got? How long is it realistic to ask the group of people you are hoping to invite to attend for? You can then design a workshop to suit this length of time.

    In an hour workshop (or a 50 minute class length), it is possible to go through a whole ‘Ketso Seed’, but the process needs to be well managed in terms of time. Participants need to be told in advance that each stage will be fairly brief.

    You can certainly get something useful out of a short session (15 – 20 minutes), but it needs to be framed and managed as such. You might find it more productive to have smaller groups for a short session, using the smaller Mini Ketso felts.

  • The ideal number is 5 – 6 participants using the standard sized Ketso felt. This gives a good variety of ideas, though Ketso can be used with fewer people or even just one person. One felt workspace can accommodate up to 8 participants, but it does take a bit longer to get all the ideas on the felt with this number.

    We find that with more than 8 people per Ketso workspace,  sub-groups start to form  and the discussion is not as focussed. It also takes longer for the ideas to be shared and collated on the felt.

    If you are running a shorter session, the mini Ketso felts are ideal, and these work well with up to 3 people.

    In terms of the minimum numbers of people per felt, a Ketso can be used with just one person, but the ideal minimum does depend on what it is you are trying to get out of the session. If the aim is to build links and share ideas across a group, it is preferable to have at least 5 people per table.

    To plan how many Ketso felts (and therefore tables) you will need, take the number of people who you expect to attend and divide by 6 (this allows 6 people per table and for a few extra to show up and make the numbers up to 8 per table). There are three large felts in a Ketso 24 (for up to 24 people) and one large felt in a Ketso 8 (for up to 8 people).

  • Before you run a workshop, you should check that your kit is in good order (this is especially important in organisations where kits are lent out or used by lots of people). Are all of the pieces there? If the checklist that came with the kit is missing, you can download and print a new one from the Ketso Store.

    Write up your branches, centrepieces and legends (using the water-based pens) before the workshop, to save time on the day.

    In terms of the venue, you need to check if there is disabled access (and if not, make sure you make it clear on your invite). Make sure there will be enough tables and chairs, set up cabaret style, for the number of participants. You need to check if there is a data projector if you are planning to use slides.

    We have developed a checklist to make it easy to get ready for a workshop, based on our years of experience. This has reminders of the main things you need to think about, e.g. features of the venue, preparing your Ketso kits, things you need to take with you, and the key elements of set up when you arrive at the venue. These are useful for running any kind of workshop, with or without Ketso.

    You can download these checklists here (word document).


Luckily Ketso is flexible and participants tend to find it intuitive and easy to use. With a bit of preparation, you should have an enjoyable experience!

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