I would like to organize a work-in-progress workshop for PhD students at my university. How can I make sure that the participants really profit from the workshop and receive valuable feedback?
I think following the model of the HESG (http://hesg.org.uk/) would be a good idea. Have the students presented 'advanced' drafts of papers, then have another student discuss it. The author is then able to reply to the Discussant's critiques, and the audience can also weigh in.
(Im sure this model isn't unique to the HESG, but its where I've come across it).
For many years we ran such a workshop. It was done periodically on a week end. The students weren't simultaneously taking classes, only working on dissertations. There were about 15 students. Their advisors were (more or less) expected to participate. Part of the day has individual meetings with advisors and part of the day has presentations. The people present are the students and most of the advisors. This was broadly computing, software engineering, human factors, etc. depending on the students. Not hard theory, though.
Students would give a short presentation of their work, bringing everyone up to date on progress, but more importantly on blocks and issues that they faced. Not every student got to present on a given Saturday, but many did. After each presentation would be a brain storming session trying to give advice on overcoming blocks and dealing with the issues. Several students would have the same sorts of issues, so it was pretty synergistic.
If an advisor couldn't attend we still wanted the student to attend and would try to get some contact with another faculty member or the program director. The issues were often generic enough that students could get help on all but the more esoteric aspects of their work.
The day would end with dinner for everyone and a social gathering.
Prior to their dissertation work, the students had been working in teams on their course work so were very knowledgeable about one another and friendly. Each cohort was very cohesive.
Having it all on one day gave students and professors an easy way to schedule advising as well as permitting the sharing of ideas among a larger group of researchers who were working on different things.
I've used past tense here as I've now retired. The same thing goes on still, though. It takes one or two people to "drive" such a structure, encouraging the faculty to participate regularly. It probably won't happen without a dedicated "champion".