How can we improve collaborative dynamics within relatively traditional meeting formats? In this work, we revisit the research dynamic in a senior level round-table meeting

round table on Learning


Early in 2013 CE helped to design a research round table for a major arts policy organisation in the UK. The round table brought together a range of industry experts and practitioners to explore the future of museum learning in the UK and needed to sit in a longer process of religning relationships and ambition across the sector. We designed an approach that sought to balance a reassuring degree of convention with fruitful forms of challenge and disruption.


Together with the organisers, we identified three key aims and challenges for the project:

Same old same old. The fear that many of the normal conventions, power structures and rituals of the round table would quickly stifle debate, leading to a situation where respected voices rehearsed familiar ideas, rather than exploring new territory together.

Isolation. The danger that the meeting itself would be an isolated, one-off experience, rather than something that was embedded in a broader framework of "befores" and "afters", and longer process of enquiry and discussion.

Realignment. The hope that the round table could begin a process of realigning relationships between the (policy) sponsor and the attending leaders in the field, fostering a mutual sense of fellowship and provocation. 

Patterns and techniques

Weave the Red Threads. The event took place within a longer context of decades of enquiry in the sector. This was explicitly referenced during carefully constructed Beginnings, which framed the meeting as part of a longer process and clearly recognised sources of authority and responsibility in the meeting. On a smaller scale, concepts were established in a pre-meeting briefing and then used as the main ordering device throughout the round table exercises. These themes were created so that they can be carried forward by participants in a way intended both to frame and to catalyse deeper discussion. We also playfully evoked participants own childhood experiences of museums - providing them with clipboards and coloured pens on Arrival.

Hold Empty Space. We used a variety of techniques to ensure powerful experts did not dominate the room and that different voices were heard throughout the session. In particular opening out the first chunk of the meeting through Paperspaces so that quieter participants could still contribute on their own terms.

Disrupt the Is. Creating moments of surprise to disrupt established patterns and to let something new into the process. Techniques included: the use of Objects from the Wellcome Collection, conducting parts of the meeting as a touring Exhibit, inviting people to Walk in Their Shoes (assuming other points of view) when exploring the questions together. 


Provocation paper, Wellcome Collection exhibits, brown paper, (fat) Prittsticks, lots of masking tape, postcard trees, projector, clipboards and coloured pens, note-takers, a bicycle bell.