Capstones Workshop

This page includes a descriptions of techniques and instructions used by Maja Kuzmanovic at the Capstones Workshop 2015 in January 2015 at the Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute in Funchal, Portugal

09:00, 60 mins

Take your time to arrive in the space and 'ground' yourself, in whatever way you like (breathing, meditation, a few stretches, walking around the room, visualisation, etc). The important thing is to have some way to make sure you are fully present in the here and now. Set the intention to be open, attentive and reflect what is in the room without distortions.

Prepare the room (furniture, materials, is there enough light and air?).
Write titles/questions on flip-charts/walls.
Print the running sheet and any worksheets and instructions.
Make any other necessary preparations so you feel ready to start when the participants arrive.


10:00, ~15 mins

Allow participants the time they need to arrive and settle in. Have some refreshments available.


10:15, 15 mins

Why are we here?

The organiser and facilitator give a brief introduction to the 'why, what and how' of the workshop. The purpose of framing is to give a clear and inspiring 'frame' in which the conversations will take place. End the framing with a few simple ground rules, such as for example:

  • be present
  • be respectful
  • be patient
  • be agile
  • be responsible for your own experience

The framing should include a clear topic or question for the workshop. The question tends to be a better way to invite contributions. Questions starting with 'why' 'how’ what' or 'what if' tend to be more powerful. Avoid questions that can be answered with yes/no.

Core question for the Capstones workshop was: “How can Capstones enable empowering transformative experiences?”

This question was chosen to connect capstones to M-ITI’s mission: “To research, enable, design and create transformative experiences that empower people to live the best possible lives in harmony with the environment.”


10:30, 15 mins

Who is in the room?

Check-in should include an engaging way for people to introduce themselves. Avoid going around in a circle saying people’s names and professions/affiliations, as most participants tend to zone out. Think of a metaphoric or playful way for people to describe themselves. For example:

Instructions given to participants in the Capstones workshop: I invite you to introduce yourself by saying your name and describing your “inner weather”. What do I mean by that? If we see the workshop as a landscape, it will be influenced by the different weather-systems of the participants mental and emotional states. It would be good to know what kind of weather to expect as we begin navigating the landscape. How would you describe your current mood or feeling as if you were describing the weather?“ (e.g. clear skies with cool temperatures, storm clouds retreating; hot and humid with a thick haze…)

Appreciative Inquiry

10:45, 30 mins

AI is a method that looks at positive experiences in people’s lives and abstracts qualities of these experiences that can be applicable to the questions you’re exploring. It begins with thinking of positive situations that the participants experienced previously. In pairs the participants interview each other one at the time. They describe the situations and ask what the person did to make this situation happen, how did they feel and what they had around them to facilitate this situation happening. After a given amount of time (in Capstones this was 5 minutes per person), the group comes back and the interviewers report on what they heard from the interviewees. The facilitator summarises the answers in three categories: Actions, Emotions and Resources. The outcomes of this exercise can be used as success criteria in design processes.

Instructions given to participants in the Capstones workshop: Think of a situation in which you had- or you enabled a transformative experience. Think about it for a few minutes, then find a person whom you don’t know so well. In pairs interview each other, one by one. Take about five minutes per person. Here’s what the interviewer can ask the interviewee: “Describe the situation in which you enabled or you had a transformative experience. What did you do? How did you feel? What resources were available to you?” Listen well as the interviewers will report to the group what they heard.

Mapping the territory

11:15 30 minutes

When beginning a participatory exploration, it is good to get a shared understanding of the present situation. A good framework for this is the so called KPU (or kpuu framework), that asks the participants 'what do we know', what can we presume and what do we not know about the context in which we operate. By structuring the discussion using these three questions, you can get a clear picture of the facts (the constant, immutable aspect of the situation) and separate them from assumptions that are more uncertain. Surfacing assumptions generates an interesting discussion in the group, showing that what some people expect to be certain is in fact not. This realisation can help them adjust their expectations, or find ways to turn assumptions into knowledge. Talking about unknowns lays open the questions that are alive in the group. You can find out what people are curious, worried or puzzled about. If formulated as questions, the unknowns can be used to specify research questions that participants can take away with them and explore after the workshop.

This exercise can be done with the whole group if it is small enough (no more than 10 people). Otherwise a 'world cafe’ (see explanation below) with breakout groups of maximum 6 people would be advised.

Instructions given to participants in the Capstones workshop: Let’s talk about the present situation of Capstones project. We will go through a set of three questions to map the territory and understand the context in which we are operating. The three questions are:

  • What do we know about the current situation of Capstones?
  • What can we presume about Capstones?
  • What do we not know about Capstones?

The facilitator notes down the knowns, assumptions and unknowns in three columns or three mind-maps.

11:45 Break, 15 minutes

Drivers of change

12:00, 60 minutes

Drivers are large scale forces or 'macro-trends' in the present that can influence significant change across all levels of a system or a culture as it develops. They are important variables to think about when designing visions, strategies and projects you’d like to be relevant to the 'outside world'. There are different ways to include drivers in your workshop:

  • If it is important to have accurate, data-driven drivers, esearch the drivers yourself by horizon scanning. This can take days, weeks, months, or a life-time. If you don’t have the time or expertise, but have financial resources, you can employ a futurist to do the horizon scanning for you. Alternatively, there are online horizon scanning services you can consult.
  • You can work with assumptions and knowledge in the group. Be aware that the results will be skewed based on the group’s ideological, contextual, sectorial and other biases. This can be an interesting indicator of the group’s interests and desires.
  • There are sets of generic driver cards, usually covering the STEEP (social, technological, environmental, economic and political) trends. You can use the cards as prompts to get the discussion going. You can also add different types of cards (e.g. tarot or oracle cards) to avoid that the cards are taken too literally and invite different modes of thinking.

The goal of the discussion of drivers is to gain a birds-eye-view on the changing landscape in which the group exists. It’s the broadest, most 'macro' discussion of the day. There are of course many interconnected drivers in the world, so the focus should be on selecting the most relevant, most important and most uncertain ones. By the end of the exercise there should be no more than 3-5 per STEEP category, or even 3-5 in total. Everything else can be used as background information to add richness to the scenarios.

In the Capstones we used a mixture of methods to discuss drivers. One was the World Cafe, and the other the Futures Wheel.

The Futures Wheel is a visual representation of connections between drivers and their wider or more detailed implications. It is a mind-map with the topic of discussion in the centre; the primary drivers in the first circle around the centre and the further implications branching outward from each driver. The connections between the drivers produce further implications.

The World Cafe is a way to have a dynamic discussion on several tables and in multiple rounds. The benefit of the method is that everyone gets a chance to discuss all topics, build on each other’s ideas and also talk to different people. This is how it worked for drivers of change in the Capstones workshop:

Prepare 3-5 tables where different drivers will be discussed. On the table there should be a big paper for people to write on, markers, (post-its) and perhaps some cards or other ways to bring in previous drivers research and printed instructions (if the moderators are inexperienced). In the Capstones workshop we had three tables: Socio-political, technological and economic/environmental. Each table has a designated moderator (either predefined as in the Capstones, or chosen by the group). The moderator stays at the same table for all rounds.

Ask the participants to choose a table for the first round and let them know that they will have a chance to move to all other tables in subsequent rounds. Provide a question for the first round and let the moderators guide the conversations. After an allocated amount of time (15-20 minutes) invite the participants to move to the next table for a new round of discussions. A new question/task is given. The moderators summarise findings from the first round and invite the group to build on them to work on the new question. The same happens in the third round.

At the end the moderators summarise the discussion in a few salient points.

Instructions given to the participants in Capstones: Which trends or weak signals are you aware of in the present, that could impact the Capstones enabling transformative experiences (positive, negative, neutral)? There are three discussion tables, each discussing a different category of drivers: - technology - economy and ecology - society and politics Pick one table, making sure that there are enough people at all tables. You will get a chance to discuss all categories, as we will have three rounds of discussions and you change tables for each round. One round will take about 15 minutes. Round 1: Select 3-5 primary drivers that have a definite impact on Capstones enabling transformative experiences
Round 2: Create a mind-map showing wider implications of each of your primary trends
Round 3: Find connections between primary drivers and describe the effects that their connection might produce\\” At the end of the three rounds your table moderators will summarise the discussions in the whole group.

13:00 - 13:45 Lunch

Closed eye visioning

13:45 - 13:55, 10 mins

Closed eye visioning is a meditative/introspective technique where the participants explore different scenarios with their eyes closed, guided by the facilitator’s open questions. You ask the questions very slowly to allow enough time for images to arise in people’s minds. You can learn what type of questions to ask and how to ask them from meditation teachers or psychologists practicing hypnosis.

The goal of this exercise is to allow the participants to familiarise themselves with the “four generic futures” (grow, collapse, discipline and transform) from a personal and intuitive perspective.

Instructions given to the participants in Capstones: I invite you to make yourself comfortable: lie down, sit, lounge, walk - whatever feels right to be doing after lunch. We’ll have a short 'guided siesta', or 'closed eye visioning', where you’ll travel to different possible futures in your mind’s eye, guided by a series of questions. We won’t share what you saw, so just relax and see what emerges - it doesn’t matter how incoherent, nonsensical or even embarrasing things you might encounter. They’ll be just passing thoughts. They don’t reflect on 'you' or your personality. Just observe them come and go as reactions to my questions. Enjoy! Take a few deep breaths. With each breath you travel a year into the future. In and out, in and out, further and further into the future. When you’re ready, open your mind’s eye… you’re in a world where everything continued as it does today. Everything continued to grow. There is more of everything. More money, more waste, more work, more pleasure, more, more, more… Imagine waking up in this world. Look around. What do you see? Who is around you? What are you doing? How are you growing? (etc) With your next breath, let go of the grow world. Let it dissolve into the background. Just focus on your breath. In and out… in and out… With the next breath another world comes into view. A world of collapse. The economy collapsed, social structures collapsed, the climate is spinning out of control, the environment suffering a rapid mass extinction. Where are you in this world? What does your life look like? Where do you live? What do you do? How do you communicate in this world? What does technology look like? (etc.) And then, when you are ready, let go of this world. Focus on your breathing and let each breath take you away from Collapse… And then breathe in and open the gates of a disciplined world. We imposed rules and regulations to cap unlimited, unhealthy growth. Some of us are disciplined and have transformed our lives to become more sustainable. Others have rules imposed on them, through an intricate system of monitoring and consequences. Which type of person are you? Disciplined or in need of disciplining? Or are you the person doing the disciplining, devising and implementing the rules? What does your work look like in this world? How do you live? Do you travel? And if you do, how do you do that? (etc.) We’re about to leave the disciplined world, so take a deep breath and one last big push towards a transformed world. A world where everything is different from your life in 2015. Nothing is the same. What does that look like? What does it feel like? What can you smell, taste, hear, touch? Look at yourself? What do you look like? Where do you live? What do you do in your life in a transformed world? (etc. And finally, take one deep breath and close the portal to Transform. Focus on breathing and with every breath travel one year backward. Take as long as you need to come back to the present… And when you arrive, slowly open your eyes, stretch out and make sure that all your bits have returned safely to the here and now. Welcome back.

Card Game

14:00 - 14:20, 20 mins

Another exercise to familiarise the group with the “four generic futures” is “The Thing from The Future” card game. In groups of 4-8 people the participants play a few rounds of the game and invent a range of “things” from different futures and time scales, in different contexts and with specific moods. Read about The Thing from The Future on futures card games.


14:20 - 15:20, 60 mins

This session is the core of the workshop. The goal is to project the topic of conversation, together with the drivers and the 'territory' into four different futures. The result should be a rudimentary ’scenario skeleton' that would give the participants a sense of what this world might be like and what they might be doing in it.

The method we used in Capstones is “four generic futures”. Its designer, Jim Dator says that whatever stories about the future we design they tend to fall into four extreme categories: grow, collapse, discipline and transform. For explanation of the method see: “Alternative futures at Manoa” by Jim Dator of the University of Hawaii.

At the Capstones workshop we held a whole group discussion, about 15 minutes per scenario. We asked questions about the world as a whole, as well as what the different drivers, capstones and transformative experiences might look like. The facilitator summarised the discussion in keywords on the whiteboard.

If the group is larger than ~10 people, this discussion should happen in break-out groups, possibly using the World Cafe method.

15:20 - 15:40 Break, 20 minutes

During the break, the participants are invited to choose one of the scenarios that resonates with them, not necessarily the one they like most, but the one they’d like to work on.


15:40 - 16:10, 30 mins

World-building is about fleshing out the scenario into a fully-fledged “world”, populated with people, events, places, etc. This exercise can take from 15 minutes to months, depending on the world-building purpose.

Instructions given to the participants in Capstones: Pick a scenario that resonates with you. In breakout-groups flesh out the scenarios to answer the following question: How would you describe your scenario as a world?
A few questions to guide your conversation:

  • What is the setting of this scenario?
  • Are there any important events or initiatives?
  • What is the history of this future?
  • Who are the main protagonists in this scenario, who is involved (designers, enablers, users)?
  • What might constitute an empowering, transformative experience in this world?
  • Can you describe what happens to the Capstones in your scenario?

Magazine from the future

16:10 - 16:40, 30 mins

After several hours of creating a scenario in words, adding a visual exercise helps to look at the story with fresh eyes. The exercise can be designing a simple mood board or a collage. Using a known media format, such as newspapers, postcards, magazines, news-flashes, or physical objects and adds can help the participants to use a known language of headlines and 'breaking news' to distill what might be considered important in each scenario.

The result of this exercise is a visual representation of the scenario, making it more concrete and tangible.

Instructions given to the participants in Capstones: Design an HCI Magazine that would feature what happens with the field in this world. Try to create the atmosphere and the key features of your scenario. The front page should feature the Capstones and their empowering, transformative experiences. A few questions to guide your conversation:

  • What are the headlines?
  • What images/diagrams would be included?
  • What is the main headline for a Capstone project creating an empowering, transformative experience?

Magazine Launch

16:40 - 16:55, 15 mins

All groups come together to present their HCI magazines from different futures. This can be made into a role-playing exercise of a magazine launch. In the Capstones group a more informal and conventional presentation of the results seemed more appropriate.

Each group is invited to showcase the magazines, speak about the headlines and articles, as well as describe the scenario in a nutshell. The other participants are invited to ask clarifying questions.


16:55 - 17:00, 5 mins

End the day with a short overview of what has been achieved and what is planned for the next day. Close with a moment to reward the effort (a simple applause can be sufficient, or other physical, vocal or collaborative exercies). __


10:00 20min

When people arrive there should be some kind of warm up exercise. At the Capstones workshop one of the participants had her birthday, so the warm up was designed around this occasion. Everyone wrote a wish for the birthday girl on a post-it, rolled it up and offered it to her. In the second round we all wrote a wish for Capstones, rolled them up and placed them in a cup in the centre of the circle, to stay with us for the rest of the day.

Summary and plans

10:15 5min

The facilitator briefly summarises the results of Day 1 and explains how they will be built on in the day to come. Plans and purpose for the day are outlined.

Personality poker

10:25, 25 mins

As a warming up exercise, it helps to do something 'personal'. In the Capstones workshop we played the “personality poker”, both as an icebreaker and as a way to discuss “who are the people in the room”. This helps the teams understand what characterises themselves and their team mates and can spark conversations about the diversity of skills and personalities needed in a transdisciplinary project.

See more on Stephen Shapiro’s website:

After a day of futuring, in the Capstones workshop we went back to the basics of the projects and asked “what, why, who, how, when and where” of their projects.

Design Brief

10:50, 30 mins

The purpose of this session is to collectively agree on the brief for the project. Even if a client brief exists, it can help to revisit what all team members understand and can agree on is the brief they will work on.

Instructions given to the participants in Capstones:
Discuss the brief you have received from your clients. Create a mind-map, affinity diagram or another visual representation of the brief. A clear design brief should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What is the project?
  • Who is it for?
  • Why is this project important?
  • Where and how will it be used?
  • What needs to be done? By whom? By when?

5 whys

11:20, 25mins

The “5 whys” is a design research exercise used primarily in problem-solving activities. It is meant to dig deep into the root of the problem and find out what are the teams 'really' supposed to be working on. It tends to be a difficult or even annoying exercise, reminiscent of a small child who keeps asking “why” and is never satisfied with the answer…

Instructions given to the participants in Capstones: What problem is your design brief trying to solve?

  • Why?
  • Why?
  • Why?
  • Why?
  • Why?

What is the root problem of this capstone project? Formulate the problem as a question.

11:45 break

Armed with a well thought-through core question from the previous exercise, it was time to go back to the scenarios from the previous day and look at the core question from the perspectives of different possible futures.


12:00, 60 mins (15 mins per scenario)

Having an idea how to solve a problem, a set of principles, or a core question can be scrutinised by looking at how they would behave in different worlds (alternate presents, possible futures…). Alternative approaches or solutions can emerge, and/or a series of 'resilient' features that can be adapted to a range of situations.

Instructions given to the participants in Capstones: Questions:
1.How would you answer your core question in the four scenarios? What might the different answers be?
2. What do the scenarios look like when you add:

  • sponsor's context
  • target public
  • capstone specific technology or media

3. What technologies, products and/or services do you envision could solve the root problem of your brief?

  • Discuss the questions above, flesh out the four scenarios.
  • Make one collage/moodboard per scenario, using words and images.
  • Discuss whether there is one or more scenarios that you find more desirable as a group.

13:00, 40 mins Lunch

The following exercises are based on the Growth model by Vali Lalioti, that is used in (executive) coaching for individuals and groups. It is meant to help collectively decide on goals for a project and different options that might lead to achieving the goals. We started with an individual exercise after lunch and proceeded with a series of group sessions in the afternoon.

Silent coaching

13:40, 20 mins Silent Coaching can be useful when you need to clarify a goal and think about how you are going to achieve it. The facilitator asks a series questions, The participants write their individual answers. It’s important to capture whatever comes to mind first. They won’t have time to think too long, instead it’s interesting to record whatever bubbles up when they hear the question, as these answers will be most intuitive and instinctive.

Questions given to the participants in Capstones:

  • What do you want to achieve?
  • Why is that important to you?
  • What will achieving this goal get you?
  • How will you feel when you achieve it?
  • What will it look like if you don’t achieve it?
  • How have you succeeded in achieving goals in the past?
  • What’s preventing you from achieving your goal?
  • What are the key features of the project?
  • What do you know about the project?
  • What do you need to achieve your goal?
  • How can you get what you need?
  • How can you achieve our goal?
  • How else might you do it?
  • What else might you do?
  • What else?

Looking over your list of options:

  • How do you feel about your options?
  • What does your instinct say?
  • What is your gut reaction?
  • Which options would you really pursue?
  • What help or support do you need?
  • Which resources do you need?
  • What is the first step you can take?
  • How committed are you?
  • Is your project in-line with our goals?
  • Is all your energy behind it?

Goals to options

14:00, 75 mins

The purpose of this group coaching session is to connect the individual ideas generated in the previous session and find a common ground for the project team to work on. We begin with defining a goal, then exploring the reality of the project to then brainstorm a series of options and look at their benefits and problems. To do this we used the GROWTH cards that were hung on the wall, with worksheets listing a set of questions related to the two Capstone projects that the groups would answer a series of 10-15 minute sessions.

Questions given to the participants in Capstones: GOAL - Transformative

  • What do you want to achieve?
  • Why is that important?
  • What will achieving this goal get you?
  • What will it look like if you don’t achieve it?
  • What can we agree on as goals for our project?

The result of the session is a list of goals the group agrees on are worth pursuing. REALITY - Objective

  • What do you know about the project?
  • What are the key features of the project?
  • What do you need?
  • How can you get it?

The result of this session is a list of features, needs and ways to meet the needs. OPTIONS - Creative

  • How can you achieve our goal?
  • How else might you do it?
  • What else might you do?
  • What else?
  • In what other ways could you approach this?

The result of this session is a series of options (solutions, processes, ideas…) that would achieve the goals. OPTIONS - Positive You have generated a set of options. Looking back at these options,

  • What are the benefits?
  • What is the value?
  • What makes it attractive?
  • How can we build on it?

The result of this session is a list of benefits for all options generated in the previous session. OPTIONS - Critical This session builds on the previous two, but focuses on honestly and constructively criticising the generated ideas. Looking back at the options,

  • What are the problems?
  • What are the difficulties?
  • What are the risks?

15:15, 15 mins Break

Will to health

Continue the group coaching based on the GROWTH model. After coming up with a set of options and examining their risks and benefits, it’s time to examine them through the filter of the participants’ 'gut' instinct, then look at how the individual instincts can be brought together in a group agreement. Finally, to round the workshop and bring all the insights together we look back at the core question of the whole workshop and answer it from the perspective of the two capstone projects.

NOTE: we omitted the “T” (stands for TIME - Organised), because the questions that are asked in this section were not appropriate to the workshop that was more about the students getting to know each other and the potentials of the projects than designing their projects and setting them in stone on the second day.

15:30, 20 mins

Invite participants to 'measure the temperature' of the options generated in the previous sessions. Give three stickers (dots or other shapes) to the participants and invite them to vote on one or more options they intuitively prefer.

Quesitons given to the participants in Capstones: WILL - Intuitive To help with decisions you can ask the participants:

  • What does your instinct/gut feeling say?
  • How do you feel about the options?

HEALTH - Energised

  • Which option(s) would you like to you pursue together?
  • How committed are you?
  • Is all your energy behind it?
  • Is your plan in-line with our goals?

At the end of this session we added the core question of the workshop, linking the coaching back to the content generated earlier in the workshop:

  • How will your project enable an empowering, transformative experience?


15:45, 20 mins

Ending the workshop with an experiential session can provide a fresh perspective on the subject matter. It is one thing to talk about a possible future scenario, but designing a situation that would describe a 'day in a life' of a real person and then enacting it yourself requires different set of skills and information. If taken seriously, a pre-enactment of the desired result of a project can offer valuable insights into the perspective of the user/participant.

Instructions given to the participants in Capstones: Prototype the empowering, transformative experience your project will enable. Design your prototype as a role playing exercise (aka a 'pre-enactment') Questions: What would a day in the life look like for a user that is undergoing a transformative experience by using your Capstone product or service? What is the situation in which the transformative experience occurs? Who is involved? What’s the story? What’s the location? What 'props' do you need? Tasks: 1. Think about what is the transformative, empowering experience you want your users to go through. Be specific. Use routines or lifestyles you know about to provide more realistic details.
2. Make up props, choose the right location to role play, then divide the pre-enactment roles between your team members
3. Design a script for:

  • 3 minute pre-enactment of the experience
  • Still image (tableau vivant) and a headline that could be printed on the cover of our HCI magazine

4. Rehearse, improvise and play!

See more about designing and implementing pre-enactments in the prehearsal pocket guide


16:05, 15 mins

Each group performs their pre-enactment for the others and presents the Tableau Vivant for the team of 'paparazzi'. Sometimes it makes sense to ask clarifying questions afterwards, but in the Capstones workshop this seemed redundant, as the projects still need time to develop before a proper pre-enactment could be designed and implemented. However, if a pre-enactment is used to learn and draw conclusions that would impact the project, a reflection/debrief about the experience is highly advised.

Before entering the last phase of the workshop, it’s crucial to mention what will happen with the results after the workshop - how will they be documented and shared, what is the follow-up, how will all the effort in the workshop remain alive and relevant.

Listening circle

16:20, 5 mins

A listening circle is a technique where one person talks while the others listen. It helps to have some kind of 'talking piece' so that only the person who is allowed to talk is the one holding the talking piece (stick, squishy ball, something meaningful for the project…) There is no discussion. This is a good way to harvest reflections without anyone getting defensive or getting into long discussions when the time for discussion has passed.

For a closing listening circle the question should be related to how people feel - something similar to the check-in session. Questions like “what are you taking with you”, “how do you feel about the workshop” or “are there any last words you’d like to share”.

At the Capstones workshop the participants described how they felt about the workshop in 2-3 words.

Invocation ritual

16:25, 5 minutes

The ritual should be adapted to the context of the workshop. Whatever can help set the intention to continue building on the process and results of the workshop, as well as strengthen the bond between the people.

In the Capstones workshop we took the wishes we wrote in the morning and ritually set them on fire, committing them to smoke and air, letting them free while invoking them to come true. After the paper burnt to ashes, we scattered them around a tree that would become a safe zone for the participants, to retreat to in difficult or confusing times, alone or as a group. To end the ritual covered the ashes with soil and watered the tree.


16:30, until it ends…

It’s important to end an intense participatory process with a celebration. We had a reception in the garden with some Madeira wine and honey cake fuelling tired but excited conversations…


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  • Last modified: 2015-05-20 10:57
  • by nik