There are two kinds of pre-work in ITK Land.
First, there’s the stuff the facilitator does prior to the session. This might involve selecting a tool, talking with the organizer about their goals and logistics, prepping a mural board or other materials, consulting with a coach or co-facilitator, and maybe doing a dry-run or two. This stuff is absolutely essential and we find that our most successful sessions tend to be those where the facilitator does a solid job of preparing in advance.
Then… there’s the stuff we ask participants to do prior to coming to the session. I like to minimize that work or skip it entirely, a preference shared by pretty much all the participants.
While the facilitator’s pre-work is crucial, I generally don’t ask anyone else to do any prep work. That’s largely because many of them won’t do it anyway, and then they feel bad for not doing it. Others diligently do the advance work but then discover that some of their colleagues didn’t do it, which can lead to resentment or feeling like they wasted time doing stuff they could have skipped. That’s a lot of potentially negative feelings coming into a session, which really undermines any benefit we might otherwise get from the preparation.
The other problem with pre-work is that it’s isolated and individual. When we bring people together for an ITK session, it’s because we want people to… work together. Similarly, we supply a facilitator to guide and direct the experience. Asking people to get started on their own, without a partner or a guide, tends to be less productive than one might think.
And finally, we find that most of the time, people already have the information and perspectives necessary for a productive ITK session. The tools are designed to meet folks where they’re at and to help them move forward together quickly, building on what they already know.
The only exception to my No Pre-work Rule is if we’re doing a 30-minute session with a group that already knows each other, has a pretty good grasp on the topic, and needs to go as fast as possible. In that case, I might say something along the lines of “We’re going to keep this session short so please come prepared…” This requires additional effort on my part, crafting a set of instructions that are clear, helpful, and lead to the right kind of preparation. So I don’t do this very often.