The Session Design Canvas V 1.0

Improve your training and facilitation skills at The Session Design Lab

The Session Design Canvas is for anyone who has attended the Virtual Session Design Lab, An Online Facilitator Coaching Session, or has read ‘Tips for Designing an Effective Workshop Session’. It assumes a familiarity with Malcolm S. Knowles Adult Learning Theories and ADIDS as a workshop format.  This canvas has been developed as part of a co-creation process. We initially published a beta version in 2020 to get feedback.

The purpose of the canvas is to support the session design process and allow a facilitator, and their team, to see the big picture along with the detail all at the same time.

How to use the canvas

  1. Download a blank copy.
  2. Populate the canvas by answering the questions below in the relevant sections of the canvas.

If you’d like to give us feedback, get a copy of an online version of the canvas to share with your team OR if you would like to modify the canvas to make it work better for you, please send a request to canvas (at)

Page 1 – Considerations

The Big Picture

  • What are your goals? What are you trying to accomplish?
    • Is this part of a broader aim or a program, project or effort? What is that? Is it a milestone? If so, how will it move this forward? 
    • What do you want to learn?
    • How will this session build and strengthen connections in your community or network? 
  • How will you evaluate the effectiveness of the session?


  • Who are your participants?
    • What do you need to learn about your participants ahead of the session?
    • What do you want to learn from your participants during the session? How can they help you move your work forward?
    • Do the participants know each other? How well? Have they collaborated or worked together previously? How is that relationship? 
  • What are the essential topics they will need to have covered in the session? 
  • Consider questions you need to ask your participants ahead of time

Consider writing a brief session description that describes who the session is for and what value and benefit they might get from attending.


  • How much time do you have to run the session? Plan less time than you have allotted.
  • Schedule your session – make sure you have an optimal time, given people’s energy levels.  A long online session might make more sense to schedule over a couple of days, rather than doing it all at once. 
  • What virtual tools will you need to run the session? Use as few as you possibly can. At the minimum, you will need a meeting space (Zoom, Teams, Hangouts, etc.) and a shared doc (Google Doc, Etherpad) for use during the session.
    • Consider your participants’ bandwidth, connections and their comfortability and familiarity with the tools.
    • Consider licensing and access. Will you and your participants be able to access outputs after the session?
    • Consider your data responsibilities. How will you manage and protect any data you’ve collected? Have you adequately protected your participants personal identifiable information (PII)?
    • What instruction will you need to provide?
  • What are responsible data, privacy and security considerations needed for this meeting? How will you communicate those to the participants in advance?
  • What will need translating and how will you do it?
  • Do you need a back-channel for your team to communicate with each other during the session?
    • Who should be part of the backchannel? Do you need more than one?
    • What platform (e.g. Skype, WhatsApp, Signal) is the team most comfortable?  
  • What resources will you need? How much budget?


  • What roles will you need to run the session? How many people? Doing what?
  • How will you document and take notes during the session? 
  • What guidelines will you need to provide in order to ensure inclusivity and trust during the session?
  • What will you need to test ahead of time?      
  • What instruction will need to be provided? How will we make sure what we are asking of participants is clear and understandable? 
  • When do you need to send different materials to participants (invitation, agenda, reading prep, instructions, logistics, reminders, etc.)?


  • How and when will you follow-up with participants?
  • How will participants continue to interact with each other after the session?
  • How might participants/community/network make use of the outputs of the session?
  • What will happen with the collaborative doc? 
  • How will you get feedback on the session from participants?

Page 2 – Session Plan

How will you line up parts of the session to create a logical and comfortable sequence? We have laid out an ADIDS (Activity, Discussion, Input, Deepening & Synthesis) sequence that will drive learning. 


  • What activity can you start with to get participants grounded in their own contexts and challenges?
    • How will you break them into small groups for the activity?
    • What should be captured in the small groups? How will you do that? (Google Doc, post-it notes, etc)
    • How long will this take?


  • Which questions should you ask when you bring them back into large group discussion to help them reflect on the activity?
    • How long will this take?
    • How will you capture it?


  • What expertise could be provided for the participants on the topic for Input?
    • Are there key voices/writings/content/stories that could be shared?
    • How long will this take?


  • What is a small group activity where participants can deepen their knowledge with the expertise they have just received?
    • How will you break them into small groups for the activity? 
    • What should be captured in the small groups? How will you do that? (Google Doc, post-it notes, etc)
    • How long will this take?


  • How can they synthesize the session in a large group discussion?
    • Is there a list of best practices you might ask them to generate?
    • How can they apply this workshop to their current and future projects?
    • How long will this take?
    • How will you capture it?
  • How much time will you have for follow-up questions and clarification on next steps?
    • What are next steps/follow up activities with the participants?
    • How will you capture it?
  • How long do you need for the entire session? Add up the time needed – especially for technical parts (switching between large/small groups, etc.).
  • Don’t forget breaks.

Co-Creating the Canvas

This canvas was originally conceived during an engagement with the European Centre for Non-Profit Law. We got further feedback and input on the canvas from participants of the Virtual Session Design Lab and finally a trusted group of colleagues provided guidance. A big thanks to the following individuals who have helped in the co-creation process:

Please help us get the canvas out of beta and get added to our list of co-creators! Send us feedback on how we can improve at canvas (at)