Lessons in Running a Rapid, Large-Scale Design Sprint from the Indonesia Australia Digital Forum 2018
Posted By On March 1, 2018

By Stephanie Arrowsmith and Andrew Thornley

Stephanie Arrowsmith is Co-Founder of Impact Hub Jakarta.  Andrew Thornley is the Managing Director of Saraswati, a private Indonesian company that manages web publication and outreach for the Partnership for Online Platforms for Sustainable Development (POPSDev). The POPSDev blog features routine information as well as event notices concerning online platforms for development. We are also interested in related offline events and processes that promote effective collaboration. Contact us if you have information to share.


When it comes to emerging trends in digital technology, the impersonal—from devices to data, bits and hits—has its place. But there seems to be no waning of enthusiasm for large conferences and forums where we can exercise our low-tech skills of balancing coffee while rubbing shoulders. We take it as a given that effective in-person communication, knowledge sharing, and collaboration are essential ingredients in promoting impactful and innovative initiatives.

But how do we maximize meaningful engagement, tangible outputs and an overall positive return on these large events—from the perspective both of the organizers and the participants?

This question has been on our mind since last month Saraswati and Impact Hub Jakarta, along with other partners including Iykra and Astronaut, accepted an interesting challenge from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: to facilitate a session of over 300 hand-picked participants to Find New Solutions from Australia Indonesia Collaboration in just a two-hours, as part of the Indonesia Australia Digital Forum 2018 held in Jakarta. Adding to the complexity, this Forum encompassed broad but important key themes including smart government, digital health, cyber security, creative industries and fintech & start-ups.

Our interest in accepting this challenge was to explore the extent that large and diverse audiences such as this could actively collaborate in a rapid timeframe in a way that could result in tangible benefits—be that personal (participants are inspired, learn about the issues or make new connections) or related to the number and quality of ideas generated during the session that can potentially be implemented or built upon further.

Collaboration is great in theory, but a harder concept to implement in practice—since it involves diverse people and perspectives, balancing different organizational needs and very often, compromise. Development partners are familiar with facilitated workshops of a few hours, but these typically involve far fewer than 300 people and strict timekeeping is rarely a priority. Start ups and tech companies, meanwhile, are familiar with structured design sprints, but these—once again—involve far fewer people and span across days to develop a functioning prototype, not just a couple of hours. Given that this Forum would have a range of participants, we decided to aim somewhere in the middle with a hybridized format.

We structured our facilitation team to reflect the challenge, by involving companies and institutions with different areas of expertise and experience.  Saraswati has roots in development; Impact Hub Jakarta nurtures collaboration and networking among social enterprises and start-ups; Iykra facilitates learning around data, primarily for the private sector; and Astronaut is a digital start up itself. We co-developed the facilitation design and assigned roles—from moderating to facilitating—to best capitalize on individual skills within these teams.

The session implemented a modified design sprint framework in three parts. In the first part, the audience was warmed up with lightning talks of no more than three minutes from six speakers representing the Forum’s key themes. This was intended to provide a quick overview of the opportunities and the challenges for participants to work on. The speakers, who are experts in their field, were excellent. Their energetic and rapid-fire talks left us inspired to respond to their provocations—setting a positive tone for what was to come.

The second part, following the talks, was an exercise aimed at brainstorming and then selecting and framing the key challenge in each thematic area. The goal here was not only to solicit key challenges but to remind participants that our work should be demand-driven and address challenges have been validated as an area of need and a priority, rather than jumping to solutions.

Participants were encouraged to put forward one key challenge they believed was pertinent to their theme and these were then voted on. The key challenge that was highest voted and selected in each theme then became the basis for which we would develop solutions.

In the third and final session, participants had to actively respond to the challenge they framed and rapidly ideate potential solutions. They were facilitated to share these solutions they had brainstormed and ‘cluster’ them with peers who generated similar ideas. Soon enough, patterns of similar thinking had emerged, helping to validate the quality of ideas and also improve upon the detail and depth of the suggested solutions. Again, to arrive at the top idea in each theme, there was a voting process.

To complete the session, we had a bonus round – Lucky Dip! This was a chance to showcase and share some of the ideas that emerged in each thematic area with a rapid two-minute pitch on stage, together with interactive questions, comments and feedback collected via Sli.do (an online audience engagement platform).

Overall, this session was highly interactive, loud and lively – as collaboration should be. Ideas were shared and new connections made among participants. To capitalize on this and ensure the momentum generated lasts beyond the conference itself, we have been working on a number of follow up activities. One of our facilitation team briefed the senior Forum delegates on the session outcomes at lunch that day. We produced an infographic, which, along with this blog, will be shared with conference participants. Saraswati is developing an online “matchmaking” platform to facilitate ongoing collaboration among Forum participants and others actively innovating for positive social impact in Indonesia. And among us co-facilitators, we are already exploring other opportunities—from trainings to start up weekends—to work together to promote Indonesia’s innovation ecosystem.

If you’re interested in helping these ideas grow or partnering with us to experiment with more collaborative design sprints we’d love to hear from you!


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