MDF helped D4D facilitate a co-creation design workshop to support the launch of innovative start-ups with business ideas in the context of digitalisation in Africa.  

The Digital for Development (D4D) Hub is an innovative form of global digital cooperation with the European Union (EU). It promotes international partnerships on digital transformation between the European Union and partner countries worldwide. D4D has recently coordinated the co-creation of a program funded by the international community that the private sector will implement. Its goal is to support the launch of innovative start-ups with business ideas in Africa's digitalisation context. D4D contacted MDF to assist them with designing and facilitating a co-creation workshop.  

We are aware that design workshops can be rather intense

The expectations for our facilitation were high. In this case, the facilitation involved twenty high-level participants from different EU countries and Morocco. Five more participants joined online. During the preliminary calls with the main stakeholders, they all expressed desire of concrete ideas for supporting digital entrepreneurship in Africa.  

To accomplish their requests, we needed to face two challenges: 

1) Hybrid facilitation.  

Twenty people will be in the room, and five will be connected online via Microsoft Teams. 

2) High-level participants versus concrete project ideas.   

We were unsure how easy it would be to brainstorm concrete ideas with high-level International Community representatives. We knew the previous workshop did not bring concrete results as they wished. 

But we also knew that

  • Although it may cause some pressure, we know how to facilitate hybrid workshops. We have done it many times, and it has proven successful. The most effective solution is to plan well and be patient.  
  • The facilitation techniques we use can make any workshop practical. It is key to guiding the participants well; if they feel guided and trust us and the process, all will succeed.  

We were confident that combining our experience and tools with D4D knowledge would ensure a successful outcome.  

What happened at the workshop 

The facilitation proceeded very well. It was such a relief for all the team members. We managed to make it work efficiently and with positive outcomes. Our facilitators considered some of the following points: 

  • Remember to ask participants to provide feedback in the correct polite order: The main difficulty for the facilitators was to respect the strict politeness rules of any high-level meeting and to invite the different people present to speak in the appropriate order. This is because we all have a natural tendency to think about the people present physically first and forget the online ones.  
  • A tip on equipment: Hybrid can work well, but we need adequate devices, such as one or more webcams, speakers and a microphone connected to the virtual call. We also need someone to keep an eye only on this equipment. For instance, the facilitator might be too busy facilitating the content to follow up if the microphone Bluetooth does not work.  
  • A tip for inclusion: We also need to ensure that the people in the room are always aware that they need to include the people connected online. In this case, we displayed the call on a big screen so everyone could always see them. The online participants could see the conference room through two different webcams.  
  • A tip on hybrid facilitation - There is always a need for a "Body": It is now called informally the "body"; a person or two in the conference room who takes care of the online group. They keep a chat open to check if the online group is experiencing a problem. They also check if the volume is too low, or if there is too much noise. Through chat, online participants will notify the body if they wish to intervene, and the facilitator will be notified. Usually, it is always helpful that the facilitator and the "body" agree on some signs (volume, sound, and intervention are the most common).  
  • Make the most of your phone and breaks. We used a wall with post-its to summarise the project ideas and a virtual wall with virtual post-its for the online group. During a coffee break, the facilitators copied the virtual posts into real ones and added them to the wall. They also took pictures of the room wall and shared them on the virtual call.   

It might seem complex, but it is relatively easy once we get into the flow.  

The concrete results 

In order to produce concrete results, we organized two rounds of working groups, similar to a hackathon, but with a much smaller scale and shorter duration. The participants had to formulate solutions to a problem statement in two rounds.   

They presented what they produced to the plenary for feedback between the first and second rounds. Their ideas were challenged during the feedback process. Were their propositions concrete enough? Was their plan compelling and sustainable?  

As a result of the feedback session, the second round produced more concrete ideas. Ultimately, four excellent ideas were developed that the group will pursue further.