Which methods can be used to engage citizens?

This section provides insight into the process of designing the activities at a societal engagement event, and how to choose a specific method that fits the purpose of the event. Social engagement events can be designed in many different ways. The event itself can vary in content, size, duration – it can consist of just 1 key activity that lasts for 2 hours, or it can consist of 5 activities that build upon each other, lasting a whole day. Nevertheless, it should be aligned with the goal of your engagement.

How to choose a method?

The choice of method to engage people depends on the goal, the desired outcome(s) and the type of participants, not necessarily on the particular technology or fields of knowledge. Methods are related to different social dynamics and are needed for establishing connection and exploring synergies between people. Methods have to be chosen according to the various stages of the event that build up the process of engagement, for example:

  • Start with a relevant round of introductions.
  • Build upon the introductions with an ice-breaker for all participants to get to know each other.
  • Present a trigger to stimulate thinking, for example a set of questions, short presentation(s), audio-visual material or a vision/story.
  • Offer an activity in smaller groups to share perspectives, for example through brainstorming or mind mapping, to exchange ideas, knowledge and personal experiences.
  • Share insights in a plenary session to see if there is consensus or where conflicting views can be found, but also to learn from each other.
  • Develop a vision how the raised ideas could be implemented in the innovation process.
  • Providing time for networking is always a great way to end, as participants might want to get to know each other better and expand their professional network.

We recommend starting with simple methods and not to overburden participants with complex dynamics and exercises. Methods and tools are intrinsically intertwined with facilitation skills and experience, and this should be stressed when implementing methods into the process of societal engagement.

Matching purpose with method

To decide what kind of method to use, it is necessary to be clear what outcome you want to gain from the activity. We have identified 4 different purposes of engagement, which you can either choose from to design an activity around, or have a series of activities using the following order:


  • Collecting ideas

  • Learning about needs

  • Finding solutions

  • Assessing impact

Each purpose can be matched with specific methods:

There are many online resources with methods for engagement and co-creation. In this guide, we have chosen four easy methods, one for each of the outcomes, that you can start with. We provide a short description and a link to further information about this method. We also suggest an approach for the beginning of the event (introductions and an icebreaker) and for the closing of the event (networking).

Purpose: to find out who is present

Method: Participants’ Introductions
Description: At the beginning of the event it is important to create an inclusive atmosphere by giving all participants the chance to introduce themselves. First, the facilitator and organisers should introduce themselves, before giving the participants the voice. Engaging everyone from the beginning makes people more at ease to speak up in further activities.
Activity: All participants are invited to introduce themselves in 1 minute by answering 3 questions, for example:

  1. What is your name?
  2. Why are you interested in participating in this event?
  3. What is your favourite technology?

It is helpful for participants if the 3 questions are displayed in a visual presentation.

Purpose: to get to know each other

Method: Icebreaker
Description: An icebreaker is a short activity with all participants before the main activities, in order to get to know each other and to create a more informal atmosphere where participants feel comfortable bringing in their ideas and experience.
Activity: There are many types of icebreakers, for example:

  • Create a list of yes/no questions in advance, which are related to the goal of the day (including some more humorous questions to relax the atmosphere). Ask the questions out loud and those who answer ‘yes’ stand up, whereas those who answer ‘no’ have to sit down. This is a quick way of gauging where people position themselves on the chosen topics.
  • Split the participants into two groups. Let the participants find out what each other’s similarities are, related to technology, to make the introductions relevant to the theme of the event. After 10 minutes, count how many similarities they have found.

Purpose: collecting ideas


Method: Brainstorming and Mind Mapping

Description: Brainstorming and mind mapping are great methods to capture and organise ideas and knowledge, first by bringing up as many associations as possible and then by visually organising them. It is a great way to find links and connections between ideas, problems and solutions. Ideally, there is a wide diversity of citizens to bring in as many associations and references as possible.

Activity: Clarify from the outset that the goal is to brainstorm on as many ideas as possible, related to the technology that is your company’s focus. Participants can start by using post-it notes to write down as many ideas as possible. In the next step, these can be organised on a large sheet of paper. Participants can use markers to create a schematic map of the various relations and interconnections.
More information: The Butterfly Works Toolbox provides practical tools and inspiration to use design thinking and co-creation for social change, among other the Mindmap.






Purpose: learning about needs

Method: World Café

Description: The World Café method is a simple method to enable meaningful conversations in small groups.

Activity: The facilitator creates an informal, welcoming café-style space, ideally with round tables and 4-6 seats at each table. The instructions are simple: participants are seated in small groups around the tables and enter into 20 minutes conversations guided by a question aligned with the goal of the event. When the time is up, everyone changes table to have a conversation on a new topic. There are three or more twenty minute rounds of conversations.

Questions are usually set by participants themselves and created before the session begins. The questions should be stimulating, open, energizing and relevant to the theme. You can use the preceding activity, for example the Brainstorming and Mind Mapping method, to find relevant issues and formulate questions that reflect people’s concerns. Each group then explores the question through open conversation. A dedicated table host (a facilitator or one of the participants) supports the flow of the conversation and records the conversation on a large sheet of paper, using words and drawings.

More information: The ActionCatalogue website has a large overview of methods to address societal challenges, among others the World Café, to enable researchers, policy-makers and others who want to conduct research driven by involvement and inclusion.

Purpose: finding solutions

Method: the Walt Disney method and the Six Thinking Hats method.

Description: Both methods offer a way to facilitate a more diverse discussion about innovative technology, by providing a strategy in which participants have to take on a specific role or perspective in the discussion. In the Walt Disney method, there are three consecutive roles:

  1. Dreamers: The dreamer develops ideas and visions without limitations.
  2. Realistics: The realist reflects on the raised ideas and asks questions such as: What needs to be done? What is needed for the implementation? What do we feel about this idea? Which basics are already available? Can the approach be tested?
  3. Critics: The critic deals critically but constructively with the results of the realist by asking: What could be improved? What are the opportunities and risks? What was overlooked? How do we think about the proposal?

In the Six Thinking Hats method, there are six perspectives:

  • The Blue hat: This is the facilitator hat, which is used to manage the discussion.
  • The White hat: This is the information hat to explore facts and knowledge.
  • The Yellow hat: The positive hat lets the thinker focus on the positive side of the issue.
  • The Red hat: The emotions hat is about sharing their feelings about an issue.
  • The Black hat: This hat highlights the caution and the risks of the situation.
  • The Green hat: This is the creative hat where one can share innovative ideas.
By mentally wearing and switching ‘hats’ or roles, you can easily focus or redirect thoughts and the conversation.
Activity: This activity can be done in teams, where everyone takes the same role (the Walt Disney method is especially suitable for this) or as a group discussion where each person takes on a different role (as in the Six Thinking Hats). In the Walt Disney method, you start as Dreamers, then turn into Realistics and finish as Critics. With the hats method, it can be done in any order or all simultaneously to start a debate where different perspectives meet. The topic has to be carefully prepared to align with your goal.

More information: The UNaLab co-creation toolkit explains the Walt Disney method in more detail.

Purpose: assessing impact

Method: ‘I Like, I Wish, What If ’

Description: This method provides citizens the opportunity to give feedback on your technology orinnovation. This is done through three kinds of statements. In “I Like…” statements, the participants are encouraged to give positive feedback on your technology. In “I Wish…” statements, the participants are prompted to share ideas of how the technology can be changed or improved to address their concerns or issues. This is a way to collect negative feedback and constructive criticism. Finally, in “What If…” statements, the participants can bring in suggestions, opening up possibilities for new ideas to be explored in future iterations of the technological innovation.

Activity: This activity starts with a short presentation of your innovative technology. Without going into technical details, the presentation explains the purpose of the technology. Then the participants are invited to explore the three statements step by step, either in writing on cards or through discussion where someone takes notes on a whiteboard or large paper. This activity can be done in small or large groups.

More information: The UNaLab co-creation toolkit offers a wide diversity of methods with practical guidelines, among others the ‘I Like, I Wish, What If’ method.


Example of using a method towards clear outcomes

The method and activities you choose have to fit your goal, to achieve the outcomes you need from the workshop. A good example is the project case from our Danish partners, at the Danish Technological Institute (DTI). Their goal was to address the societal challenges that the Danish healthcare system will face in the coming decades. To do so, the team approached a group of companies that provide digital solutions to the healthcare industry to observe what kind of challenges are present and how they can use societal engagement to meet these challenges. Three workshops were organised, each raising different kinds of issues depending on the participant group.

Of particular interest is their third workshop with as goal to hear citizens’ perceptions about ageing and how eHealth products impact on their daily lives. The workshop engaged elderly citizens and representatives from an eHealth company.

The workshop consisted of the following activities:

  • an icebreaker for all participants to get to know each other

  • a project presentation

  • a general discussion about e-Health

  • an activity with a provocative video on the subject that stimulated a discussion followed by questions to facilitate the discussion

  • the company presented their products which were subsequently discussed

  • an evaluation of the event at the end of the workshop

The overall feedback was that the workshop created a good platform for discussing ethical issues regarding ageing and eHealth. Both the citizens and company felt that they got something out of participating in the event, which is the result of a carefully chosen process of engagement using a diversity of methods.

Example of formulating engaging questions to stimulate engagement

Setting relevant questions is a great way to spark people’s curiosity and engage them in a debate. Our project partner in Bulgaria, at the Centre for Research and Analysis (CRA), formulated stimulating questions to guide the participants. These questions helped the participants to have an in-depth discussion and to reflect upon their own opinions about different e- Health applications. It is important to stress that participants’ personal opinions and values are important and that there are no right and wrong answers. The following is a example of questions raised on innovation culture deficit:

Challenge – Innovation culture deficit

  • Is there such a deficit in society? How do you judge? Have you read research analyses on this topic?

  • In which groups of the health segment is this deficit most pronounced?

  • How does this deficit manifest itself?

  • Do you have recommendations on how to minimize this deficit?

  • Do you think that the debate “against and against covid vaccines” is a deficit of innovation culture?

Noting down the take-away points

We recommend that someone takes the role to note the insights raised by the participants, as these can be used afterwards in the analysis of the event outcomes. This activity resulted in the following statements from participants:

“There is a serious deficit of innovation culture at all levels of society as a result of people’s psychology, insufficient information and distrust in the system. Bulgarians believe in conspiracy theories: he does not trust the institutions because he has been lied to a lot and is afraid of the new and untested.”

“The deficit is manifested in inefficient use of innovations, poor organisation. It also exists in hospital units, or at the general practitioners’ services.”

“Recommendations to minimize this deficit: training of specialists, more and reliable information and information campaigns. Proper implementation of each new technology, to have testing, patients to evaluate the benefits and advantages.”


The Guide towards Responsible Tech Innovation using Societal Engagement has been created as part of the EU funded SocKETs project, which aims to align innovative technologies with citizens’ needs and values through societal engagement.
This 3-year project has been managed by 10 partners from 8 European countries.

This guide and its contents reflect only their authors' view. The Research Executive Agency and the European Commission are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.

The SocKETs project (Societal Engagement with Key Enabling Technologies) has received funding from the European Union´s Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation under grant agreement no.958277.


The Tech Industry’s Guide has been created as part of the EU-funded SocKETs project, which aims to align innovative technologies with citizens’ needs and values through societal engagement.
This 3-year project has been managed by 10 partners from 8 European countries.

This guide and its contents reflect only their authors' view. The Research Executive Agency and the European Commission are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.

The SocKETs project (Societal Engagement with Key Enabling Technologies) has received funding from the European Union´s Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation under grant agreement no.958277.