Reflections on an Assumption Mapping Workshop

by Blog

A guest post by Sandy Rushton, People Powered Retrofit. Originally featured on Medium.

As the delivery of the Energise Manchester project got underway, we needed to collectively define our audiences for the various project interventions.

A group from the project teams working on the ‘Warm for Winter’ activities met for an online Assumption Mapping workshop to focus their efforts, whilst exploring the diversity of communities that the project is or could be engaging with. The workshop was designed and facilitated by Chandni Patel (Snook), with support from me on facilitation.

In this post, I’ll cover the aims and objectives for the workshop, what we did, and some of the outcomes and reflections from the session.

Aims and objectives

The aim for the workshop was to map our assumptions about our audiences’ needs, motivations & barriers:

  • in engaging with the Energise Manchester Services, and
  • to make changes to their home, to make them warm and healthy.

The workshop focused on three interventions:

  • Street-Based Engagement,
  • Community Hub-Based Training, and
  • Neighbourhood Health Champions.

However, the wards and communities we looked at have relevance across the wider Energise Manchester project; so the exercise was useful as a starting point for other interventions, as well.

Preparing for the workshop

Before the workshop, Chandni and I prepared the materials in Mural. We brought in previous research done by Kat Wong (Carbon Coop) on the project’s wards (Levenshulme, Longsight, Rusholme, Moss Side, and Whalley Range). I created a visual map of the wards with different community spaces that the team had previously identified, and pasted Kat’s research into a table.

We set out the other activities using sticky notes and tables. We gathered the audience needs, barriers, and motivations that had been generated in previous workshops (see Reflections on an Intervention Mapping Workshop) and put them onto the Mural board for use in this session.

What we did in the workshop

At the start of the workshop, Kat recapped the existing data gathered about the wards. After looking at the wards’ data together, we asked: What are the different communities/audiences in the target wards?

We explored the term ‘community’ from different perspectives, starting with some communities that we could pull out from our existing data (e.g. location, ethnicity, housing tenure, income). Then, we added to this list with different types of community (e.g. faith, family make-up, age, health, and language) to answer the question “What are the different communities in the target wards?”

At the end of this activity, we had a long list of communities within and spanning across the 5 wards. We then used a prioritisation exercise to narrow down some communities /audiences to focus on for the rest of the workshop. Each team member voted on which communities they wanted to take forward to the next section.

Criteria considered when voting was up to each member of the team. They may have voted based on communities they were already knowledgeable about, those they wanted to learn more about, or those where Energise Manchester would have the most impact.

After prioritising, we clustered communities that came up multiple times in the vote and ended up with a list of 14 different community ‘lenses’ to map our assumptions against.

At this point, we mapped our assumptions against an imagined ‘general’ audience.

We did this in an Assumption Map where we categorised our assumptions based on how confident we were in them, from very confident to total unknowns. We discussed decisions as a group, as sometimes there were differing opinions on the level of certainty we had.

Once we had done this exercise for an imagined ‘general’ audience, we then used the same Assumption Map format to explore the needs, barriers, and motivations of the prioritised communities. Members of the team could choose which communities to work on, and we rotated to give people a chance to contribute to multiple Assumption Maps.

After all the time was up, we did a reflective exercise to see what everyone was taking away from the workshop and how the workshop would inform delivery going forward.


At the end of the workshop, we had mapped our assumptions about 14 distinct and intersecting communities from across the 5 target wards. We had a better idea of which needs, barriers, and motivations that we were confident in and which we needed to find out more about through our work with members of the community.

In the reflective wrap-up, the team identified the need to take a holistic approach and be empathetic/sympathetic to the needs of different groups. They acknowledged that we have a lot of knowledge in our team and partners we can use as springboard, too.

The workshop also brought up questions about whether to go broad or deep in terms of engagement as we move forward with the project (we discussed how building deep and meaningful relationships will be crucial), how to recognise the boundaries of our own expertise, and how to manage the project’s scope and the expectations of ourselves and the people engaging with Energise Manchester.

Personal reflection

My past experiences in Service Design have typically demanded that teams I work with get very specific about a service or product’s target audience and users, before design or delivery begins.

In my early work on Energise Manchester, I felt a tension in myself bubbling up. On the one hand, I wanted to push the team for specific definitions of their target communities, thinking that they needed to focus quickly in order to develop meaningful and relevant advice for a particular community’s needs. On the other hand, I understood the need to be open to new possibilities and organic encounters as relationships were being built in the communities through Street-Based Engagements. The team needed freedom to explore, to find out the needs of various communities in the target wards, and build understanding but also to be able to make decisions on areas of focus for design and delivery.

The assumption mapping workshop, for me, struck a balance between acknowledging and exploring the diversity of communities in the project wards, getting more specific by sharing our existing knowledge about some focus communities, and highlighting gaps in our team’s knowledge for further inquiry.

My hope is that we can continue to use the outputs from the workshop to aid research and development of the project’s interventions, taking a holistic and intersectional approach to defining our audiences and challenging our own assumptions along the way.