Gunnar Erth On The Golden Recipe For Workshops

The topic of participation in workshops at statutory events was raised recently in The AEGEEan, and we continue to focus on this interesting topic. Questions concerning the quality of workshops, the topics and the golden recipe of a workshop will be answered in this interview that The AEGEEan did with Gunnar Erth, who throughout his many years has participated and hosted a large number of workshops.

He has hosted very different workshops, from simple brainstorming sessions regarding a project to creative ones, where people display their ideas with performances or posters. He describes them as the ones that are the most fun.

In Agora Rhein-Neckar Gunnar will host a workshop but it is no classic workshop. It will be a mixture of a presentation and group discussions and the topic will be the history of the summer universities. Since the Summer University Coordination Team will be at the Agora, the hope is to have lively best-practice discussions with the participants regarding participants’ management and a SU programme design. Hopefully, ending up with the best formula for a SU.

Gunnar says that “a good workshop should not primarily transmit knowledge, but rather be about developing ideas together”, but what other golden rules are there to workshops? Let’s have a look.

The AEGEEan: How many times have you hosted a workshop?

Gunnar Erth: Oh, many times. I did the first one was when I was president of the Human Rights Working Group. We were discussing projects about former Yugoslavia. Most of my workshops were either related to PR matters, antenna management or project management.

And what is it that you like about organising workshops?

It’s the best way to directly involve and motivate people in AEGEE! People see each other eye to eye – and thanks to this aspect workshops add the human touch to discussions, which otherwise would happen online. The most fascinating thing about workshops is that they can get their own life and go to directions that you did not expect. When you organise a workshop then you usually have an idea and preferred outcome in mind. But as soon as the people discuss, they take over, they develop ideas and these can be totally different from yours. This can be great, but also frustrating.

Why is that the case?

Sometimes you have some high goals in mind, which require a lot of work and initiative. And then the participants don’t catch the hint and rather go for a simple solution with less impact. If it’s only a training workshop then it’s not a big deal – you can just tell them what else they could have opted for. However, if the purpose of the workshop was to develop a new project, then it’s a pity. But there is nothing you can do as a workshop leader, since the participants are the ones to carry the project out.


You have organised and been in many workshops. What is the golden recipe to make a workshop good?

First of all, you need a good topic. Without it, you don’t get participants. The potential participants must feel that they can either learn something for themselves or help shaping a great initiative. The second factor is making catchy PR before the workshop. The third thing is the way you structure and lead a workshop – currently Fabian Brüggemann is the best workshop leader in AEGEE. He is brilliant! You need to set out a clear goal of the workshop, keep in mind your own ideas and nudge the participants in a certain direction – but you have to let the people develop the idea. Because if it’s theirs then the chance is high that they catch on; if you present a ready-to-use idea, the chance is lower. You need to be able to adapt the workshop to the ideas of the participants, if things go in a different direction.

To give an example, I can tell you that in the Network Meeting in Mainz some years ago we discussed PR ideas in a workshop. Nearly all participants were from the Rhein-Neckar region. Some people suggested a printed AEGEE magazine for the region as a joint PR tool. That was in 2004, so before people made WordPress blogs. Since there was so much enthusiasm, I changed the workshop right in the middle and we discussed the form and content of this magazine. After the event we kept on discussing the idea online, but since no one wanted to coordinate it, the idea died.

That’s a pity.

Yes. And this leads us to the final ingredient of the recipe for a great workshop: a good follow-up. In every workshop you should discuss concrete steps how to follow-up, if you developed new ideas. But as you can see from the example, even then success is not guaranteed.

It is sometimes difficult for workshop organisers to get participants of the Agora to take part in their workshop, because it is not compulsory to go. How do you face this problem, and what is your advice to other workshop hosts?

Good PR, before the event. During the Agora it’s too late, because unfortunately there is only little time to present the content. There were so many Agorae where I didn’t really know what the next workshops were about so I just followed my friends – sometimes we went to just any random workshop or we had a coffee… So the participants must know about the workshop before the Agora. You must promote it like a big event. Social media help a lot. You can create a Facebook event and invite people, you can create a Facebook group, you can present the workshop in The AEGEEan or Golden Times, and you can even present it on AEGEE-L. If the topic is related for example to current issues, for example human rights, you can use existing discussions in AEGEE to make people aware of your workshop. There is no limit.

Written by Patricia Anthony, AEGEE-København