Ben Holliday

Quality conversations over process

Thinking about design as a series of conversations

Thoughts following this tweet, yesterday.

There is an often overlooked secret to making progress:

The quality of your conversations is as important as your process.

Process is an easier proposition to package, share and even sell to organisations in response to a set of problems that they’re setting out to solve. But it doesn’t really matter what type of lean, or agile methodology you follow. Or, the type of design thinking and double diamond magic you practice. Progress will only be as good as the quality of your conversations.

Workshops and the art of facilitation

At FutureGov we regularly use workshops as part of a design process.

This is the way we bring people together to have conversations and exchange ideas. They help different groups understand and agree shared goals, framing conversations that help us work towards them.

This all happens through the art of facilitation. Communicating, listening, adjusting, and deciding (together). These are all important skills to develop. Whether you’re a designer or anyone else trying to deliver change to a service, organisation, specific problem or situation.

Start with a clear sense of direction

Firstly, make sure you know the outputs, outcomes or decisions you’re moving a group, team or organisation towards making.

This doesn’t mean knowing all the answers, it’s staying focussed on finding them.


Even with a clear set of outcomes, listen. Challenge your own assumptions and be open minded — understand the broadening context of every conversation.

Listening enables you to respond.


Reframe the conversion when you need to. This means you have to think on your feet. The challenge is adjusting each conversation to the flow of opinions and knowledge in the room.

You’re looking for people to reach shared understanding rather than predetermined answers, so keep them on track.


Finally, decide. If you own a conversation, which is another way of thinking about facilitation, then make sure it ends appropriately.

Good conversations lead to more conversations, but ultimately to ideas, shared understanding, decisions, and eventually progress.

Assigning responsibilities and actions is an important next step. Deciding and committing to what happens next is the difference between a focused conversation and small talk.

Rinse and repeat

The best conversations start and end well. Be open and generous with what happens in between. This is the importance and art of facilitation.

There’s no magic formula, but learning to design better conversations around any type of process is a good starting point.

This post is also published on Medium

This is my blog where I’ve been writing for 18 years. You can follow all of my posts by subscribing to this RSS feed. You can also find me on Bluesky, less frequently now on X (formally Twitter), and on LinkedIn.