Paper: Ten Simple Rules for Running Interactive Workshops

I’m very happy to say that PLoS Computational Biology Journal have just published our latest article: Ten Simple Rules for Running Interactive Workshops”Our piece is this month’s featured paper too, which we are thrilled about! (Issue front page is here.)


plos cb homepage
PLoS Computational Biology Journal Homepage featuring our article – Feb 2014


What’s it about?

Well, it’s kind of self-explanatory, but let me explain why we wrote it.  Colleagues at the EBI often ask me how to go about planning a workshop; for example, they may need to gather feedback from users, to brainstorm solutions to a problem, or sometimes they want to improve processes or team work, such as with activities on team retreats.  As a start I would point them to my tips on workshops in this site, but this got me thinking.  Perhaps I could put my experience and tips into a more formal article, so even more of the computational biology community could benefit.

How did we write it?

I teamed up with my User Experience Analyst colleague, Sangya Pundir, to start pooling our ideas and experiences.  We then got together with our colleague, Katrina Pavelin, who works in science communication and public engagement at the EBI.  Katrina interviewed us and read around the topic, bringing all the material together into ten clear “rules”.

Why did we decide to write it?

Our primary vision for the article was to provide the key practical steps from planning to delivery of an interactive workshop, in a fairly technical/scientific environment.  We also felt it was really important to use our article to more clearly define the term “workshop” (or as we say in the article “interactive workshop”), because the term is often used in dubious ways.  For example, a “workshop” may in reality only be a series of presentations to an audience, a “chalk-and-talk” training course, or a typical meeting, which are all usually passive not interactive.  We wanted to make the difference, and more importantly the benefits, clear.

What are the highlights?

For me, I think the real life insights that we have put into this article bring it to life, making it more real, and credible to the readership.  I feel we can put forward relevant points for PLoS Comp.Biol. readers, because we are working in a bioinformatics institute; running workshops with computational biologists, software engineers, pharmaceutical and agri-food R&D scientists and researchers (i.e. the kinds of people who we believe read this journal).  A couple of places with insights include:

  • “Some participants may be sceptical of just playing games…”
  • “Reflective personality types [often techies are this!] may find ‘on the spot’ thinking uncomfortable, so provide information about the workshop aims in advance to help them prepare”
Low tech social network
Low tech social network is mentioned in the article as a good ice breaker activity for interactive workshops

Why is our article important?

My answer is “fun!”.  Getting creative in bioinformatics is not always easy, as we are usually dealing with quite rigid, technical topics.  Our article gives guidelines on how to get creative with problem-solving in this environment, since interactive workshops can stimulate new and creative ways of collaborative working – and thinking-  to uncover ideas, and potential.  They can be engaging, and great fun AND they deliver useful outputs into your work.  Ultimately, they can make potentially difficult and boring work exciting and memorable (and you have the photos to prove it!).  They can improve communication, build relationships and rapport between people too – which are especially valued aspects in scientific fields, where collaboration is often key to success.

It’s true that workshops do take a bit more planning and resources than a standard meeting, but we feel they are worth it.  And we hope after you have read our article and have your own workshops – however small – you’ll be persuaded of their enormous value to our field too!



Pavelin et al. “Ten Simple Rules for Running Interactive Workshops” article

Jenny’s workshop tips [on this site]

Gamestorming website



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