Another way to provoke new thinking is to take a field trip to a specific location that can add a dimension of first-hand knowledge that increases the participants’ understanding of the challenge and their ability to identify questions they wouldn’t have otherwise considered. For example, for an event about data privacy and security, we visited the new terminal at Heathrow airport to tour their security facilities. At an event about decreasing the battery load of soldiers, we made a trip to a military base where scientists could see the actual battery load an infantryman was required to carry. For a workshop about energy efficiency and user-centered design, we toured a building that had incorporated energy and user-friendly elements, as inspiration and also lessons learned. An excursion of this nature will address the different learning styles of individuals, adding a more visual and kinesthetic component to the workshop. The change of location can be invigorating, too. It does add complexity to the event: the workshop venue should be within a reasonable travel distance, buses or other transport must be arranged and the workshop agenda has to accommodate the travel time.

Criteria to make a field trip or site-visit useful:

  • It should offer hands-on experience with a user or stakeholder. The more specific the better.
  • It should give access to multiple experts or users. A canned tour with one guide is less informative than a field trip where several perspectives or components of the challenge are presented.
  • An “insider” view has to be presented. Seeing behind the scenes and being able to touch and take part in a challenge adds value in a way that a speaker or presentation cannot.

Field trips eat a lot of time, and unless well conceived and facilitated, they won’t add commensurate value. Include an excursion only if it will immerse participants in the challenge, and if the logistics for the site visit can be simplified to minimize wasted time and participant fatigue.