We used this technique during our first day of a training course on Participatory Action Research (PAR) in Colombia. We watched participants nervously enter the space in its disastrous state. A look of confusion crossed their faces while we giggled – equally nervous to see if it would work out. Once they all settled uncomfortably on the floor, we asked them the first question: so, how are you all feeling? Seeing them sufficiently awkward, we asked them to recreate the space in the way they want. We put a song on and they started reorganizing.
For us, it was an important way to get participants involved in co-creating space, as a first act of taking ownership in the research process.
We are observing the kinds of spaces that make participants feel most comfortable. We are observing how they are able to find a collective vision around creating a space, how they work together, and how they interact. This also gives us a sense of how a group understands power dynamics within the process we are about to start (do they set up the room so that we sit on the floor, or do they set it up in a traditional ‘teacher-student’ classroom style?).
It's important to give people ownership of the space they're in. If people walk into a pre-arranged space, they walk into a space that is not theirs. We want to change the tone, and put them in the steering seat from the get go.
You introduce this technique at the very beginning since you're setting up the space for the process to start.
Make the room really messy (before people arrive to the workshop)
Watch participants walk into the room and say nothing, act as if everything is normal.
When everybody has arrived, tell participants: as you can see, this room is really messy! Do you mind re-arranging it in the way you'd like to work in it today? Give them 5 to 10 minutes.
Put on a fun playlist!
When they are done, ask them about the experience.
This exercise encourages people to play with and take ownership of the space. It gets people to start working together in the first few minutes of a workshop and it’s a lot of fun! For the facilitators it’s also the opportunity to get a read on the vibe of the group (are they shy? Playful?)
You have to be ok with awkwardness.
If used in a training on participatory research/facilitation it can be used to stress that space does matter in workshop settings.
You can do two rounds of this exercise: one with and one without music to talk about the power of music in getting people energized.
You can ask participants to do this exercise various times within a workshop as an icebreaker and to change the vibe of the room. Put good music on while they are re-arranging the room. Put a song you know participants like and gets them going.
No additional resources for this technique…
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