Design Tip:
When to Use Multiple Forums and When to Use Galas

A Weave subscriber from PayU was recently producing a large portfolio prioritization project. He asked me to help clarify the distinctions between a single forum, multiple forums and galas and for some advice on when he should use each. I thought this would make a great design tip, because each of these support different kinds of collaboration events. 

Weave Collaboration Events
Weave supports two kinds of collaboration events: A forum and a gala.  

Forums are designed for a single team and can either be scheduled to start at a specific date and time or started instantly as a team desires. The “team” can be an internal team, like a Scrum development team who using Weave to conduct a retrospective, or a external team, like the members of a Customer Advisory Board using Prune the Product Tree to provide feedback on a product roadmap. Forums with external stakeholders are almost always facilitated; forums with internal stakeholders may or may not be facilitated depending on the experience of the participants and the goals of the forum. For example, we’ve found that mature portfolio teams can often do a good job prioritizing project portfolios using Buy a Feature without the guidance of a facilitator.

Galas are multi-team collaboration events. They are explicitly designed for a larger number of people. A gala works by presenting a single URL to all of the facilitators and participants. When a facilitator accesses the URL, Weave starts a new forum. This forum is pre-configured to accept a certain number of participants into “seats” or “slots” that are designed to accept participants.  

When a participant accesses a Gala URL, Weave searches through the list of active forums associated with the gala and automatically adds the participant to the first forum that has an open seat. If there are no open seats, Weave will either create a new, unfacilitated forum for the participant or ask the participant to try again when a forum with an open seat becomes available. In a sense, galas act like a “dispatching mechanism” for participants, guiding them into a forum. 

Both forums and galas have a guest list, which is a list of email addresses and/or domain names eligible to participate in the forum, and a black list, which, as you’ve probably guessed, is a list of email addresses and/or domain names that are ineligible to participate. Guest lists can be further configured to require participants to authenticate their identity via their Weave account or their email address, giving you a very high degree of confidence that the participants are exactly who you approve – and no one else. 

As you might imagine, there is a substantial amount of machinery that works "under the covers" to make all of this work in a seamless manner. The Conteneo dev team has made it pretty easy to use forums and galas, so let’s explore some circumstances in which you might use one over the other. 

Single Team? Use a Forum 

The easiest design choice is when you have a single team. In these cases, just use a single forum. Most of the time, your “single team” will be three to eight people. However, there are times when a “team” might be larger than just eight people. For example, a customer asked us if they could use a single Prune the Product Tree with 18 members of a Customer Advisory Board who really wanted to work together on one very large, custom-designed canvas. Normally, we’d recommend that they use three separate forums of 6 participants and then merge/analyze the results. In this case, having one very large group of participants made good sense, and the event was quite successful. 

Multiple Forums for Moderate Group Sizes 

Let’s assume you have a larger number of participants, for example, 40 to 60 stakeholders who should be involved in a portfolio prioritization process. Now we get the heart of the  question that motivated this design tip: should you use multiple forums or one gala? 

The key to answering this question concerns the structure of the groups: if group structure or group identity is important – meaning – you care about which participants are in which forums – you should use multiple forums, one for each group, because a gala does not preserve group structure. 

However, if the group structure is not important – meaning – you don’t really care about the individual members in a forum – then you can and should use a gala, because galas make scheduling these kinds of forums a breeze. 

Let's explore a few examples of when group membership does and does not matter. 

Where Group Membership Matters: Participatory Budgeting in Schools 

To illustrate when group membership matters, this case study is base on Every Voice Engaged Foundation’s work in implementing Participatory Budgeting (PB) in Sunnyvale Middle School in Sunnyvale, CA. PB projects generally proceed in four distinct phases: 

  1. Proposal Ideation: Participants generate ideas for proposals.
  2. Proposal Development: A steering committee reviews the ideas and selects a subset of ideas for proposal development.
  3. Proposal Selection: A set of proposals is presented for voting.
  4. Proposal Implementation: The most broadly supported proposals are selected for implementation. 

For the Sunnyvale Middle School project’s ideation phase, we needed to determine how to best organize the students for idea submission. There are approximately 1200 students at the school organized into about 50 homerooms. The teachers managing the process felt that students in the same homeroom should be in the same forum, as it would give students a chance to discuss ideas with each other and their teachers at a known time. Accordingly, we created 50 forums, one for each forum, and gave each homeroom their unique 9-digit join id. 

If you choose this option make certain that your facilitators start their forums on time! We had a few teachers who forgot to start their forum, delaying some of the interaction. For large numbers of forums, I often skip the lobby and start the forum immediately. 

Where Group Membership Matters: Enterprise Retrospectives

An enterprise retrospective is a process in which each team in an organization conducts are online retrospective in Weave to generate data that is analyzed across the teams to identify patterns of behavior and opportunities for improvement at the enterprise, department, squad and team level. Because group membership matters in a retrospective you’re going to schedule multiple forums, one for each team. 

When Group Membership Does Not Matter: Portfolio Prioritization 

Traditional portfolio management practices often limit the number of leaders involved in selecting which projects to fund because it is simply too hard to get a lot of people involved. The root cause of why it is hard varies. Sometimes it takes too long to schedule the necessary meetings, especially when leaders are distributed across multiple time zones. Many times it is too costly to fly everyone into the same location. At other times the portfolio managers don’t have a means to manage and analyze the data from different voices – so they just don’t ask.

 

A better approach is to use a Weave Decision Engine Gala for portfolio prioritization. This ensures that a larger number of voices can be engaged, safe in the knowledge that a secured guest list will still manage access. More importantly, portfolio management at scale is enhanced when different participants are working together because they can blend experiences and perspectives into a better outcome for everyone.  

When Group Membership Does Not Matter: Enterpise Ideation 

We know that innovation sessions can produce better results when groups are formed from mixed members precisely because these groups are not encumbered by previous expectations of “how participants are supposed to behave”. In these cases, a Gala is the preferred option, because you want to ensure that the participants in a forum are going to be semi-random. 

Huge Numbers of Participants Need Galas 

While Weave makes it really easy to schedule a single forum or a small number of forums, it would be pretty challenging to schedule hundreds to thousands of forums. When you’re dealing with extremely large numbers of participants, you’re pretty much going to have to use a Gala. 

I hope you enjoyed this design tip. If you have further questions or have a design tip on how you're using Weave that you'd like to share, send me an email at luke.hohmann@conteneo.co.