What happens when national government makes an announcement on the eve of your public engagement workshops, advising that the nation stays indoors? With events lined up for West Midlands Combined Authority in two cities the next day, quick thinking (and cancelling hotels and travel) was needed.

To get the workshop online, I considered how transferrable the content was. I had to find out if the group was willing and teched-up enough to try something different; alongside my own lack of technical skills, (pretty easily overcome with a few practices over the weekend).

Resources were posted in advance, so people had everything they needed to take part. As well design templates and ranking cards, standard things like flipchart, post-its and sharpies were posted.

Planning how to capture outputs was important, with camera phones on hand and the record function activated in Zoom. Lining up a note keeper meant I could concentrate on the workshop flow and eye contact.

So how did it go?

A full house of participants and no technical issues (thanks Zoom!). Housekeeping was different; mainly agreeing how we’d let each other know when we needed breaks and how we’d share back with each other.

Pandora holding up three post-its, with images of a cup of tea, a toilet, and of someone stretching.
Visual cue cards for taking breaks…Stretching, Food and Toilet!

The secret to this workshop was doing lots of prep with the group beforehand; finding out about additional needs and building a strong relationship with one diamond member first before taking the wider group online. My kitchen table was full of post-its for each exercise, but also quick ideas to build trust…top tip for adapting to being at home…most embarrassing thing that might happen in the background on my camera etc.

What worked was how people adapted. Once over the embarrassment of seeing themselves on screen, they seemed comfortable to exist in a 2-D box and dived happily into the resources we had posted.  This meant we could go through each stage, drawing out insight, pooling ideas, and keep laughing along the way.

Seven people on a video call, with five participants showing post-its saying: working happily; happy; relieved; happy; different
One word feedback on how participants felt afterwards

What worked less well was not knowing in advance the space people had around them. One person had zero desk space for the exercises and got around this by sharing ideas verbally. 

It’s a different challenge compared with being in a physical, neutral space. Everyone is in the same situation, dealing with feelings of mild intrusion and self-consciousness. But online is here for a while, so let’s get on board and make it an amazing experience.

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