There is more than one way to price a workshop: experiments in shared economy

For those of us who work in participatory design, what does it look like to extend engagement to questions of money as well?

So you’ve got a small budget set aside for professional development. You find a training that looks good on paper, costs say $100 to attend and you register by paying the fee and submitting your name. At the end of a long day of powerpoints, you leave with a few notes in hand and your receipt/attendance confirmation for the human resources department, never having given much thought to the cost or value of the workshop.

At Percolab events that doesn’t happen.   

For many years now, we has been experimenting with different ways to engage with with cost and value of trainings. Percolab has taken inspiration from practices in the Art of Hosting community, from The Commons, and in particular, a practice that our colleague Ria in Brussels introduced us to: the shared economy.

With each of the open workshops that I was a part of hosting in 2017, we experimented with different ways to present this useful practice. Most of us are not comfortable talking about money. We have very little practice being open and transparent about how much we would like to earn, how much we can afford to pay, and the value we receive from a training. With inspiration from my colleagues around the world, this is what I have learned so far about how to present the shared economy in a way that is inviting, clear, reassuring and effective.

Experiment #1

At the self-management workshop we hosted back in May, we gave participants two options.

1) Register and pay the listed price on Eventbrite ahead of time


2) Engage with the shared economy by paying a small registration fee (so that we know you’re actually coming) and then paying the remaining amount, of your choice, at the end of the event.

It sounds like a pay-what-you-can model, or a sliding scale, but that’s not the idea behind it. While we do want our workshops to be accessible to anyone regardless of their financial situation, what we were aiming for was a shared economy practice. It’s an opportunity to take into account the budget of the event, and then choose what to pay based on the information available, including the number of participants. i.e. “sharing” the cost.

What’s unique about this model, is that it’s an engagement. You are agreeing to share the responsibility, and cover the minimum cost for the event to run successfully.

At the end of the workshop, we share our budget with you (including how much we would like to receive as hosts/facilitators/trainers). We then divide the total cost by the number of participants and everyone makes a choice based on that proposed average cost.

The result?

For that particular event, about half the participants paid the listed event price ahead of time, and half engaged with the shared economy. Our budget included the cost of the room, catered lunch, printed materials, and the time and expertise of the facilitators.

In the end, it turned out that this two-option, shared economy acted like a sliding scale. If you had a company paying your training bill, you paid the full listed price. If you were an independent, or coming from a non-profit organization, you participated in shared economy. Some paid a bit more than average, some paid a bit less. Everyone has a fairly good idea of where they fit on a scale of income, so they know for themselves if they can contribute a bit more than the average, or not. We covered all of our costs, and paid ourselves. And we learned something about the demonstrated need for accommodating different budgets.

But there was more to be experimented with.

There is also the question of perceived value. Are you engaging with the budget and making a choice that is not just a matter of what you can afford, but the value that you have received? Are you consciously participating in the financial reality of your learning experience?

For those of us whose profession it is to increase participation and engagement in events and organizations, this is an important question. For the trainings that are based on, and designed for engagement, it seems pertinent that we extend that engagement to the question of money as well.

Our good friend Frederic Laloux asked similar questions of his readers when he published the online version of his book (which was a foundational building block of our self-management workshop) Reinventing Organizations.

The idea is, “I cannot know what the book is worth to you, so I’m not sure a fixed price makes much sense.” It’s an experiment in abundance where I trust that when I give, I will also receive.”

When our colleague Nil was in town, co-hosting The Money Game with Cedric, they took inspiration from the gifting economy and asked participants: “What would be a contribution you could offer that would give you joy?”

This consciousness around our relationship to money is important to us. We are shifting our budgeting and allocations for project work internally away from a time-based model (how many hours did it take you to do this?) to one that factors in complexity, expertise, and value. Some very human qualities of the work.

Experiment #2

At our most recent evening workshop, on the topic of generative decision making, we decided to combine a few of these ideas, and encourage an engagement with the value of the event.

As we closed the session, we asked participants to write down on one side of a paper what they learned, or are taking away from the workshop.

On the other side, thinking about the value this event has had for you, write 3 numbers:

1) A contribution that would feel unjust or too low,

2) An amount that would feel like too much for this evening of learning,

3) A number that you would feel good about contributing to this event, based on what you have learned and what you can afford.

The first step was about reflecting on value and money on your own.

The second step was to share the budget of the event.

We listed the cost of the room, the snacks we provided (essential for an event at the end of the workday) and what we hoped to receive as hosts of the event. For the line item relating to the honorarium for the facilitators (our pay), we set a range for what we would each be willing to receive, on the low and the high end, for this evening of work. We had a similar range for the percentage that we would put back into the Percolab pot for overhead as we do with every project.

We counted the number of people in the room and did the math together for the average amount each person would need to contribute to cover the cost. We were left with a range depending on whether the facilitators were to receive their low-mid or high honorarium amount.

With that, we told participants which methods of payment were available, and left the rest up to them.

The result?

The added step of having each participant reflect on their own about their relationship to the value of the event was important. It changed the nature of the conversation and the participants were more engaged with the budget we presented.

For ourselves, it felt more honest to list a range for the pay we would each receive (and to be clear whether it would be split 50/50 between us and why). As organizers of an event, it is not easy to declare how much you would like to make. Mostly because we don’t practice it very often. And then to discuss with a co-host whether we are splitting the profits evenly or not, for whatever reason. It’s a step that I push until the last minute every time. But being able to include it in the presentation of the budget makes it that much more transparent and that much more clear.

Things to experiment with next time:
How could we include the collective aspect of shared economy? Until now participants have been making the decision on their own, with or without time to reflect on value first. What if we had a discussion about it and shared the responsibility openly as a group?
This is something that was factored in when the Shared Economy was first piloted at a learning village that our colleague Ria was a part of. To read more about the origins of this idea:


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Generative decision making process

Generative-Decision-MakingCollective decision making made efficient (yes, it’s possible!)

Making decisions together does not have to be long and painful. The realm of “consent based decision making” is not well known even though it can help organisations make decisions collectively efficiently and wisely. We use this at Percolab, a consultancy company supporting social innovation and collaboration, based in Canada and France.

We developed Generative Decision Making Process, a consent based decision making process built on the Integrated decision making method of Holacracy with the culture and practice of Art of Hosting. We use it every week at Percolab. Our record is 19 strategic decisions in one hour!

The process requires a host, ideally, the host rotates from person to person. At Percolab everyone can run this type of decision making and we rotate organically depending on the day.

When first developing the practice it can be helpful for an organisation to invite in an external host for an initiation or supportive coaching to develop the internal skills.

1. Ripeness

Is the time ripe for the decision? Is the context clear? Is there information or data that needs to be gathered? Could an open conversation help develop the ripeness?

Hosting tips: You might need to offer the group one or two open conversation time slots to get to this point (ex. I am going to put the timer on for 10 minutes while you explore the topic in question). Offer supplementary time slots as necessary. You might need to conclude that the decision is not ripe, and this is ok. Listen in deeply and when you sense that there is a possible proposal in the air, the time is ripe. Invite the group to head into the next step.

2. Proposal Version I

Invite the group — would someone like to make an initial proposal? This will help the group move forward into action and there will be lots of opportunities to fine tune the proposal together.

Hosting tips: Help the proposer name a proposal in ideally one single sentence. Avoid the proposal spreading into multiple proposals. Ensure that the proposal is written for all to see (separate from the proposer) and repeat it out loud.

3. Clarifications

The group has the opportunity to voice questions to the proposer. The proposer has two options to answer — i) Provides the answer or ii) Says « Not specified » if the answer is unknown.

Hosting tips: If someone is speaking without a question (ie. reaction) remind him that is question period. Ensure that all questions are directed at the proposer and no one else intervenes. Avoid letting the proposer speak about anything further than the direct answer(keep it tight). Sense into when the clarification period is about to finish (ie. people are ready to react).

4. Reactions

It is mandatory that each person (minus the proposer) expresses to the group their reaction to the proposal; the different voices and perspectives of all need to be heard. The proposer listens deeply and take notes. Afterwards the proposer will craft a new version of the proposal.

Hosting tips: Begin with the person who has the most reactive emotion and then go around, until everyone has shared their reaction. Make sure that the reaction is not about the proposer, but about the proposal itself — correct if necessary.


5. Proposal version II

The proposer formulates a new version of the proposal in light of all that has been spoken. The host ensures that it is written and visible to all and reads it out loud.

Hosting tips: If you feel that the proposer might want to stay with the same proposal, remind her that she can. If you sense that the proposer needs support in formulating the second version, remind her that it is possible to ask for help — however do not rush into saying this.

6. Objections

An objection needs to express a risk or a backward movement for the organisation/initiative. All objections are expressed to the host who then decides if the objection is valid or not. If it is valid, then the proposer needs to integrate it into a new version of the proposal. (Then the objection round is repeated).

Hosting tips:Sometimes people might express personal concerns that are not in fact organisational risks. This needs to be differentiated. If it is fuzzy you may ask for help to the group. This is the hardest part of the process for the host.

7. Visual confirmation

Everyone visually confirms I can live with this decision by raising their thumb. This is a way of allowing all to see that everyone is fully onboard with this decision. If there is something that has not been spoken that needs to be it will show up because a person will be unable to raise his thumb. This can happen when (i) someone is struggling to find words to put on an idea that is important to them or (ii) someone is disengaging in the process (holding on to the possibility to question the decision in the hallway thereafter). Either way it will need to be addressed and the group needs to return to the part of the process that was not fully addressed.

Note: It is good to have visual confirmation as a cultural cue with which the process may be fast tracked. Someone makes a proposal and you can just do a quick check in to see right away if everyone could live with it.

Hosting tips: This is not a decision council and it is not an opportunity to lower thumbs and restart a process. It is simply a visual confirmation. If the process has run smoothly all thumbs should be raised.   If someone is struggling to find voice for an objection kindly support the person and let them know that all information is important.

This sums up the process. A final word just like playing the piano, don’t expect to get it perfect first go. It does take some practice.


This article is also published on Medium in Percolab Droplets


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One feedback sandwich, please… hold the compliments.

“Hey, Elizabeth,” the guy said, “I wanted to tell you that I really liked your check-in with that group today. That was a good question.”

“Um, thanks…” I responded. Even though I was receiving a compliment, something was off in his tone and I could sense my guard creeping up.

“Yes, it was very good. We could really feel the group coming together,” he continued. “However…, um…,” he hesitated, “in the afternoon….”

Oh, I could see what was happening here: he was serving me a feedback sandwich. I hadn’t ordered one, but here it was: heavy, and dripping with unsolicited “constructive” criticism, wedged between two thin, dry compliments.

Photo by Francis Mariani

“…it’s just a bit of feedback I thought you could use… Oh, and that’s a really nice dress!” he concluded weakly.

“Um, thank you,” I mustered, “I’ll take your feedback into consideration when designing the next work session. See you next time.” I walked away flustered, as I wiped the bitter taste of unwanted feedback off my lips.

Now, I like to pride myself on being someone who can handle criticism, feedback, and tough issues. “Give it to me straight” could be my tagline. “Courageous conversations” is one of the keywords on my Percolab business card. I do not shy away from what is difficult. My eyes might sting with tears if something hits close to home, but I am a learner first, and I figure I can always get stronger and better.

But this feedback sandwich upset me. I wasn’t ready to receive it, I felt patronized, and misunderstood. And I had the distinct impression his feedback was about him, not me or the meeting. In case you’re curious, the feedback was a list of activities he liked or didn’t like. While I am always happy to hear about how people experience my process design, there wasn’t anything in his feedback that I could use to make my design better.

Four easy steps to building a better feedback sandwich

1) Consent

First of all, ask permission! If you wanted to offer someone a sandwich would you just shove it down their throat?


(And if your answer is yes, please message me privately: we need to talk).

A few weeks ago, I accosted my colleague. I wanted to talk to her about a decision she had made that affected the whole team. I wasn’t upset about the decision itself (it was a good decision), but I was livid about the team not being consulted for this specific type of decision. When I saw her arrive, I walked right up to her — before she even took her coat off — and told her what I thought. No hello. No how-ya-doing? No, hey-can-I-talk-to-you-about-this-thing? Within minutes of delivering my little diatribe, I felt like crap. I knew I had not handled that well. She just look stunned. A little later that morning, I learned that moments before I cornered her she had found out a family friend had died.

Good job, Elizabeth,” I thought, withering a little inside. I might as well have thrown a hot smoked meat sandwich at her and drizzled mustard down her blouse.

So, if you are offering to feed someone a sandwich, ask them first: “Would you like a sandwich?” And if they say no, don’t give it to them. That’s all. The same goes for feedback.

2) Preference

Then you gotta get a little more specific: what kind of sandwich are you offering? Do you only have the one pre-wrapped sandwich? Do you have a whole pantry at your disposal and you just absolutely want to feed this person? Do you know about their preferences and if they have any restrictions? What about allergies?

At one of our team retreats, another colleague led us through a workshop on giving feedback. One of the questions he asked us to reflect on was “How do you like your feedback?” And the diversity of responses threw me off guard: “Bluntly,” said one. “In question form,” said another. “Please be gentle,” said a third. And on and on: nine different answers for nine different people.

Asking someone how they want their feedback is kind and respectful. If that seems too open-ended, maybe you can try: “This is the kind of feedback I have, would that be useful to you?” Kind of like, “I have grilled cheese sandwiches, would you like one? I made them with gouda!”

3) Intention

Let’s get back to the basics: why do you want to give feedback in the first place? Is this about you sharing your opinion, or, do you really want to contribute to this person’s growing and learning? Do you have extra sandwiches that you need to get rid of, or, do you really think a sandwich would benefit this person? Does it look like their blood sugar is getting low and they need a boost? Have they commented about how hungry they are? Have they been eyeing the buffet table?

I flush a little when I think about all the times I thought I had useful feedback to give when really I was just being an obnoxious know-it-all. I wanted to show how smart I was, or trot out a new theory I had just learned, or flex a little authority. In short, my attempt at “feedback” was really my ego seeking attention.

I can’t overemphasize the importance of being clear about the intention behind what you are giving feedback about and this is where it can get a little tricky. For instance, if my intention while facilitating a group was to get them to brainstorm and someone gives me feedback about how there were no decisions made… not helpful. However, if they get that my intention was to brainstorm and their feedback is that they felt the instructions were unclear and their group was confused, then that is something I really need to work on. And just to be sure you get the other’s person’s intention: ask! Something like, “Hey, what was the intention behind that speech.” Or, “I understood your speech like this _______. Was that what you were going for?

Being clear on our intention is essential if we want our work to have impact out in the world. I recently slammed into the importance of intention while taking a writing class with inspiring local writer and communications expert, Adriana Palanca. I was going to miss one of the weekly classes as I had to go give my own workshop on collective intelligence practices in Quebec City. I decided to submit a writing piece anyways and get some useful feedback from the group (my piece would be read out loud and commented even in my absence.) So I lovingly crafted a detailed description about the quality of movement in the “dance shows” my five- and seven-year-old children like to perform in the living room. How they move their arms, how they spin each other around, and how gentle and careful my son is with his little sister.

Except. Oh, dear.

Apparently… I wasn’t quite clear on my intention and my classmates interpreted my piece to be about a sexy romp between two adults on an orange couch. They were mortified when they realized, four paragraphs in, that I was writing about my kids.

I got my feedback from Adriana in ALLCAPS that week. Thankfully. I need to know if people are getting what I am trying to do. And if my intention and impact aren’t lining up, then please, by all means, give me something to work on. Just make sure I’m ready and willing to digest it. Boy, did I happily (but embarrassingly) accept that sandwich!

4) Be specific and add a pickle

One last thing, be specific. Don’t give me a “meat” sandwich. Ham and cheese on toast is much clearer. Mortadella and provolone on warm ciabatta, even easier to identify. The clearer and more specific your feedback is (like, “Elizabeth, make sure you say that you are writing about small children dancing in the first line”), the more useful it will potentially be for the person receiving it.

And if you want to add in a pickle to make the intention-wrapped sandwich a little tastier, focus on what you think they are specifically doing well, not just what you like. It’s the difference between: I liked the sandwich OR those caramelized onions really brought out the tartness of the apples and the richness of the brie in that wrap.

In short:

  • Figure out why you want to give feedback in the first place. (Hello, ego, is that you talking?)
  • Ask if they want to hear your feedback. And if they want it right now.
  • Ask what kind of feedback would be useful (or if they want the kind you have).
  • Check to make sure you get the intention of what you are offering feedback on.
  • Be clear and specific.
  • You can always compliment my dress.

And if someone gives you a feedback sandwich when you aren’t hungry? Be gracious. Smile and nod and take a bite. You can always spit it out later.

Thank you to Adriana Palanca for schooling me on the importance of intention and for the wonderful feedback process in your class. Thank you to Ezra Bridgman, for the awesome editing. Thank you to Meghan Gilmore and Lisa Rollins for the feedback!

I owe each of you a sandwich. I’ll even let you pick what kind.


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Collective sense-making as practice

Semi-structured co-learning across projects, domains, territories

Collective sense making is not evaluation nor debate. Very simply it requires some common themes which serve as common language or filters through which to think together about work that is very different. The common filters honor what is specific of what is happening in each place or domain and invite in a common language and thinking angle.

Recently I joined the European university of public sector territorial innovation for a 3 day adventure with over 200 people structured around 16 real projects from multiple countries. I was invited as an external witness, a healthy innovation practice, and was invited to intervene at the closing session. My task was to bridge between the event itself and the future via my external observations and insights. It was an invitation to work in emergence, with no possibility to plan ahead; this is the zone in which I thrive.

 At the end of the three days, I spoke to the group on the importance of prototyping as a rapid learning process, imperfect doing in order to gain information and insights. I reminded us all that co-creation requires being explicit with ourselves and the group on our commitment and contribution level. It is ok to be involved intensely and then step out, as long as it is made known. And then I finished on the topic of collective sense-making as a key process to help see more systemically. It is this point I wish to share in more detail.

I invited participants to identify some themes that could be interesting for us all. I do love how I can trust human beings and their intelligence and natural care. The themes that emerged were:




There was no need to modify or improve upon these themes. They came straight from those who had lived the three days together. They would serve us for our collective sense making. We needed only to trust that that they were helpful themes for us.

I invited everyone to spend 5 minutes in silence to write whatever came up for them around these themes and our last three days of exploration around public sector innovation via the projects. Just a raw 5 minute writing time to prepare us for our collective sense-making.

Then it was time to step into conversations in pairs. Again, I reminded everyone to help each other not fall into debate or evaluation culture and to find someone who they had not met and who had worked on a different project than them. We had 15 minutes together in co-learning around our agreed themes.

There was some hesitation and then the entire room delved into deep conversation. Afterwards we had a share back and people spoke to how this had brought forward insights, anchored learning and made connections. People spoke of the delight to be in this type of flowing conversation with depth. The process was received as a gift. Some even used the term “soothing”. It does feel good to step back from our daily work, and converse with someone we don’t even know. Having a light “container” of shared themes and a little bit of solo time helps us access the deeper learnings that are ready to surface. It is about the sweet spot between chaos and order that allows generative emergence.


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