Wizard seeks apprentices

You’ve done your reading, you’ve done your homework, you’ve built tons of bowties in the past and you know all the ins and outs of every element and its supporting guidelines. As a bowtie expert it can be highly fulfilling to pass on this knowledge in a guiding role as a bowtie workshop facilitator. But how to do this? We listed some best practices from our own and partner network experience to get you started in becoming an effective workshop facilitator, leading the next generation of bowtie ‘talkers’ into bowtie ‘thinkers’.

Plan, prepare, perform

As the key to success lies in a solid and thoughtfully structured preparation, you need to take time to start preparing for the workshop itself. According to us, this consists of three phases: 1) scoping of the assignment, 2) account for any practicalities, and 3) set up the ground rules with the team.

1 – Scoping

Define the scope of the workshops and/or set a goal for the day:

  • Can you use any HAZOP/HAZID input as a starting point?
  • Do they already have a ‘top 5 hazards/top events’ identified?
  • Are you building one or more bowties?
  • Is it only the basic diagram you’ll focus on?
  • Are you adding any reference data or other characteristics already?

Decide on a company template beforehand:

  • Are you working with a top down or bottom up organization?
  • What kind of existing data can and will be used?
  • What will be the content of all bowties in the end?

Make sure to have the correct people at the table:

  • Does the entire team have (identical?) basic bowtie knowledge?
  • Is every stakeholder present?
  • Does the group have a balanced mixture of experts?


2- Practicalities

Consider whether you have the following materials, knowledge, or expertise present in your facilitation tool kit:

  • Legislation, Codes of Practice, Standards & Guidance material
  • Local and global industry-specific information
  • Databases, incident reports, audits, hazard registers
  • Projector & internet / online call facilities
  • Whiteboard – and use BowTieXP after the initial draft!
  • A dedicated scribe during the workshop

3 – Ground rules


  • Refrain from criticizing and avoid actively rejecting ideas
  • Start with a blank page and avoid continuing from existing documents *
  • Go through all bowtie steps one at a time instead of following a threat line all the way to a consequence
  • Slow down any rushing or jumping to conclusions
  • Don’t get stuck into too much detail

Stick to bowtie guidelines:

  • Repeat the guidelines to create mutual understanding
  • Set a relevant scope within the hazard/top event(s)
  • Check every main element with the guidelines after brainstorming

Assigning meta data:

  • Decide beforehand whether to include this in the workshop or not
  • Think about which barriers are critical – as to where to focus on
  • Check whether each consequence line is ALARP as is
  • Do you have assurance data to add?
  • Are there any management systems/ documents in place to attach?


Tips and tricks

Furthermore, we’ve asked our partner network in one of our Train the Trainer sessions recently on what they would define as tips that always do the trick for a proper workshop. Here’s a short list of the input they provided to us:

  • Focus on top 5 of hazards only
  • Let others speak instead of you doing the talking
  • Motivate by celebrating small successes
  • Practice active time management
  • Don’t forget to have fun too!

Drum roll…

And for what reason did you do this bowtie workshop again? It was not only to caress your ego in bowtie method and guidelines skills, right? The end goal of a (proper) bowtie workshop should always be to assist a company in doing their risk assessment. Two possible outcomes of a bowtie workshop should therefore be:

  1. “Yes, we are working ALARP and are comfortable with the risks we have and can support this with theoretical evidence.”
  2. “No, we are not working ALARP and do not feel comfortable with the risks we are running. During the workshop we were able to formulate possible recommendations for following up.

(In both scenarios of course any learnings or actions should be documented and a proper plan to follow up should be in place.)

Steps in a bowtie life cycle

One thing to mention before you dive into doing the bowtie workshops, is that a workshop on its own is merely a part of a bigger process. A bowtie is hardly ever a static result of a brainstorming session. It needs tweaking, maturing, and evolution in order to stay fit; it simply requires reconsideration from time to time. After doing the scoping and execution of a bowtie workshop, feedback, adjustments and maintenance are needed. Make sure that any organization you’ll provide workshops for knows that having an initial workshop is not the end goal.

Want to learn more on this topic? Some of our (partner) trainings provide more guidelines and practice on how to facilitate a workshop. Contact events@cgerisk.com to inquire about any relevant upcoming trainings.

* Some additional reference information from the CCPS book to support as well as elaborate on this tip:

“Prior to the workshop, generating draft bow ties based on past work or the previous hazard evaluation findings will make the workshop more efficient.”

“It is recommended to start by brainstorming on a clean sheet then switch to the previously developed bow tie to compare and discuss differences.”