Designing participatory meetings and brownbags: A TOPS quick guide to linking development practitioners

This short guide by the Technical and Operational Performance Support (TOPS) Program and USAID focuses on identifying appropriate formats and approaches for presentations, group discussions and problem solving sessions to enhance peer-to-peer learning.

This resource and the following information was contributed by Alice Macfarlan.

Authors and their affiliation


Key features

This guide aims to help readers plan and run an effective and interesting peer-learning event. It centres around four key steps:

  1. Think through your objectives and the knowledge needs of your audience.
  2. Choose a format that will engage participants and bring out the knowledge in the room.
  3. Build in activities designed for reflection, dialogue, and collaboration.
  4. Plan out the flow of the session, including managing time, questions and answers, small groups, and moving forward. 

The formats discussed include:

  • Case study
  • Debates
  • Guided discussion
  • Panel discussion
  • Presentations
  • Pyramid schemes
  • Roundtables
  • Three (or four) corners
  • Work session

The guide also includes techniques and suggestions for making room for reflection and dialogue, managing the flow of events, facilitating Q&A sessions, and working with small groups.

How have you used or intend on using this resource?

Running events is an occasional but stressful part of my job, and I feel as though this guide will provide some very useful guidance to make learning events more useful to all involved. I probably fall into old habits when it comes to planning learning events and so this guide will be useful in terms of deciding on which format might be most appropriate.

Why would you recommend it to other people?

I think there's a lot of practical advice that event coordinators and facilitators will find useful.


Technical and Operational Performance Support Program. 2013. Designing Participatory Meetings and Brownbags: A TOPS Quick Guide to Linking Development Practitioners. Washington, DC.