How to Host a Rewarding Ideation Session for Members and Volunteer Leaders

On St. Patrick’s Day, a group of association professionals got together to come up with ideas for new virtual learning products for the International Association of Leprechaun Professionals (IALP). Although the IALP is based somewhere near us in Dublin, we haven’t been able to find their office or get in touch with any of the wee fellows in charge. They promised a pot of gold for a promising idea, so Teri Carden, founder of Non-Dues-A-Palooza, decided to host an ideation session.

The evergreen non-dues revenue challenge for associations

Non-Dues-A-Palooza was a fitting virtual venue for our ideation session since it’s a year-long event experience designed for associations, like IALP, who are seeking innovative ideas for generating non-dues revenue. WBT Systems sponsored the session and Matchbox Virtual Media designed the program.

Matchbox has used this design session format many times before because it allows participants to bring their unique perspectives together and co-create solutions to challenges. You start with the question, “How might we…?” By the end of the session, you have dozens of ideas to explore.

What you need for an ideation session

To host an ideation session, you need a:

•    Facilitator(s) – in our case, the Matchbox team
•    Challenge or problem to solve
•    Web-conferencing platform with breakout rooms, like Zoom or Matchbox Virtual Media
•    Google Doc for real-time collaboration
•    Attendees who are willing to actively participate in the process—no slouches allowed

ideation session

The 4 phases of an ideation session

Here’s how our ideation session flowed.

#1: Introduction

Present the challenge or problem to your group, including any background information that will help them develop useful ideas. Our challenge was: “How might IALP differentiate themselves by offering an innovative, revenue-generating virtual learning product or service?”

Matchbox provided examples of other challenges they’ve seen:

•    How might we keep our community connected in the virtual space after this event is over?
•    How might we foster a growth mindset in our community?
•    What is lacking in our industry and how might we combat it?
•    How might we create more diverse speaking panels?

To get your attendees’ creativity flowing, you could share your “How might we?” question with them before the session.

Now that our group understood the challenge, Michelle Brien, WBT Systems’ vice president of marketing and product strategy, wanted to get them into the right mindset. She shared a few stories about clients who developed new virtual learning programs, specifically:

•    Learning pathways
•    Microlearning subscription
•    Microcredentials

Arianna Rehak, co-founder and CEO of Matchbox Virtual Media, shared the Google Doc link and explained how the session would flow.

#2: Ideation time

While Michelle tuned up an Irish playlist—music helps creativity—a timer was set and everyone started in on the Google Doc. The shared document had three columns:

•    Name of solution/concept
•    Description
•    “Yes and” plus monetization ideas—this was where you could expand on someone else’s idea, including ways to monetize it

Participants prefaced their entries with their name so the host and facilitators could keep the idea and person together if they chose that idea for one of the breakout rooms. The Google Doc already had three rows filled in with Michelle’s client sample ideas, with the third column left empty. Participants quickly filled in their “Yes and…” ideas.

Behind the scenes, the host scanned the ideas and choose the three most intriguing ones for deeper dives in the breakout rooms. A facilitator split the attendees into small groups for the breakout rooms.

#3: Small group breakouts

On the Google Doc, beneath the worksheet the attendees were using to jot down their ideas, the facilitator assigned one idea and several attendees to each breakout room. Each room had its own worksheet with guiding questions. Each group selected a scribe and presenter, and then got to work fleshing out the solution with the help of these questions:

•    How might IALP package and monetize this virtual learning product?
•    How might they involve sponsors?
•    How might they consider marketing this to members?
•    How might they use this product in hybrid settings?
•    How might they differentiate themselves from other associations offering online education?

#4: Presentations

When time was up, the attendees were brought back to the main meeting. One person from each group made a pitch for their virtual learning solution and implementation plan to Teri, who judged the presentations on behalf of the IALP. She chose the educational coaching service that we wrote about last week. Please, steal our idea, consider it open source.

ideation session

Preparing for an ideation session

Before the ideation session, your staff, host, facilitator(s), and sponsor (if you go that route) must:

•    Identify a challenge and prepare background information.
•    Come up with sample ideas/solutions to get things rolling.
•    Prepare a Google Doc for collaborative ideation. The table format with three columns and breakout room worksheets with guiding questions worked well for us.
•    Schedule a tech rehearsal to make sure everyone can handle their responsibilities.

What attendees and your association will take away from an ideation session

Encourage attendees to download the Google Doc so they can share the ideas back at the office, in committee meetings, or in your online community. Include some of the ideation session highlights in your newsletters. See if there’s interest in diving deeper into some of the unexplored ideas.

Share the attendee list and contact info (if they opted in), including LinkedIn profile URLs, among the attendees so they can become better acquainted after the session.

If any of the solutions align with association goals, talk to the attendees about their interest in exploring the solutions further and presenting them to the appropriate committee. See if any of the attendees would be interested in serving as volunteers on related committees.

The ideation session also serves as an opportunity for sponsors to contribute their leadership and expertise. They can work with your association on sample ideas. During our ideation session, we discussed how our clients adjusted to pandemic conditions and used our LMS to deliver new programs. Employees from the sponsoring company could serve as scribes in each breakout room and participate alongside attendees.

Ideation sessions are fun for everyone involved. They give people a chance to exercise their creativity—an activity they rarely have time for in their busy lives—and contribute their brainpower to solving association and industry problems and creating innovative ways to deliver value. Speaking of deliveries, has anyone seen that pot of gold?


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