Process vs Content Templates in Book Sprints

 I have been working with a group of very interesting people over the last 3 days producing a book that can be used for generating campaigns about Internet Literacy. We generated texts on a large and varied range of topics. More on all this later. One very interesting issue that has been more clearly illustrated for me in this process is the necessity to understand the role of templates when generating content. When I talk of templates here I mean pre-configured templates that are meant to illustrate what the final product of a chapter or ‘content unit’ should look like.

I have always avoided using templates because I think it shuts down a lot of creative discourse about what the content could be and it kills those amazing surprises that can leap out of working in a freer manner. Perhaps even more importantly, templates can confuse people – sprint participants need to first just create what they know or are energised by – forcing output immediately into templates is not helpful to this process. However, I can see there is a role for templates, not as structure for the final content but as tools that can help the process of generating content.

In this particular Sprint, we generated a very lightweight template before the sprint. This is something I really dislike doing for the reasons stated above but the fear was (and I think it is justified in this instance but I would want to be careful before advocating its usefulness in other contexts) that we would float too far in conceptual territory without any boundaries. We wanted very much to glue the creative discourse and thinking at the Sprint to defined actionable units (campaigns). So for this purpose after discussion with one of the initiators of the sprint we generated a very light weight template that provoked only 7 points. Really just the ‘who, what, why’ material that campaigns need to address. This was then used as a process template – a template acting as a foundation for the sprinters to define the context of their content – not a template that would become the structure for the final content.

It worked very well – enabling the participants to let their creative energies flow while providing a backdrop or context within which the content needed to rest. The ‘process templates’ also allowed those who think conceptually to ‘build up’ so to speak, and those that thought in more concrete terms could also define their content. It provided a common scaffold for Sprinters to build in the direction that most interests/energises them.

So while it does not change my mind regarding content templates, I think I have discovered a place for very lightweight process templates that can give some kind of framework for the participants to work with, refine, define, and fill.