News and Comment

Bake My Day!

Friday 12 May 2017

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I recently discovered a new facilitation tool. Bread making. When in doubt, if you’ve got a tricky subject matter, or disparate group of people, bake a loaf.

As part of Marmalade 2017, Arts at the Old Fire Station, Camerados, and Mayday Trust hosted a workshop called Bread and Butter Services. This workshop intended to explore the value of relationships in addressing problems caused by isolation and loneliness. There were about 45 participants; a mixture of organisations providing services for homeless people, service commissioners, and people with lived experiences of homelessness and times of crisis.

You can watch a film about the whole day here.

OPM Group’s “Dialogue by Design” team supported the design of the event, and facilitated the day. Aside from the endless supply of fantastic(ally awful) puns that come with bread baking as a workshop activity, there are a host of reasons why it really works. Here are my top 5:

1) It gives people something to do other than talk to each other. This may seem an odd thing to say when often successful workshops are built on the quality of the conversations that take place. However, sitting across a table from someone else, aware that you need to reach some sort of outcome by a certain time of the day, can produce a very forced conversation. This is especially true when working with a group of people who may find it difficult to interact with each other. Giving people an activity to do together takes the pressure off and allows people to interact more naturally. The conversations that need to happen can still happen, but in a much more relaxed way.

2) It builds trust. Providing an activity that has nothing to do with the subject matter of the workshop encourages people to see each other as people – not as their job titles. Power dynamics and tensions in the room quickly diffuse as people come together over a simple, fun activity, in which everyone can easily participate. As a result, conversations become more human, more honest, and more productive.

3) It introduces a little chaos. Not everyone is comfortable with highly formal, organised processes. While other elements of the day were more standard design-workshop style activities, the bread-making ensured there was always an element of unpredictability running throughout. This was reassuring for those for whom a workshop or conference-style environment was new and intimidating, and conversely was stimulating for those who may have been dreading the standard flip-chart and post-it-note workshop routine.

4) It doesn’t take over the day. At first, I did think we may have bitten off more bap than we could chew by trying to get to the end of the day with solid workshop outputs AND edible bread products. However, bread baking can really be timed around the other activities, and actually doesn’t take too long. Our participants probably spent a total of an hour on bread-related activities, and the time that was spent doing that was invaluable in terms of ensuring points 1 and 2 above happened early on in the day.

5) You can eat the output of your workshop at the end. Once we had finished for the day we brought in the baked loaves, with some jam and cheese and drinks, and invited everyone to enjoy what they had made together. This provided not just a great metaphor for collaboration and building positive relationships, but also facilitated exactly that.

The event was well received by all participants. Seven subject-specific outcomes were developed during the day, as well as five key behaviours to embrace (for more information see the event report produced by the Arts at Old Fire Station and this blog post from Lankelly Chase)- so the bread was certainly not the only positive product of the event. For more information about Marmalade, please get in touch with Arts at the Old Fire Station – and check out the video wrap up for this year. For information about the process design for the workshop, (bread making and otherwise) contact anna@dialoguebydesign.co.uk

Anna McKeon
Consultant
Dialogue by Design