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Points from the introductions


When shifting to an online model of collaboration I have observed firstly a tendency to try and directly replicate all aspects of face-to-face events in online spaces (shared screen presentations, slido, Zoom breakout groups etc) which work well in some cases - short webinars and discussions with groups of people that mostly already know each other, for example - but much less well in others. .. I really hope this discussion will help me to address these issues - to think more imaginatively about how to conduct online collaborations... (Alan Stanley)


While COVID 19 has brought some enlightenment on the value of online workshops or discussions as compared to F2F, many people still need orientation and support to shift from face to face, to virtual. (Stephen Agbenyo)


Getting people to value online as much as F2F – as an example, a workshop may shift from being face to face, to virtual. In a F2F setting we have people “in the room” (no escape!) and can spot when to encourage them to focus on what’s happening in the room. How to motivate people who are not used to this way of working, to stay focused? (Cheryl Brown)


Another key factor influencing participation is the presence of one or more animators, individuals who invest time in keeping the exchanges rolling... (Giacomo Rambaldi)


The main issues I've encountered about collaborating and interacting online? First of all, the problems I've faced actually often resemble the typical woes of offline engagement i.e.. poor process design, poor or no facilitation nor spread of those skills in the group beyond the facilitator, poor understanding of group dynamics and group decision-making...I'm interested in exploring the following:

  • How to bring our whole selves into online collaboration to establish a different rapport. Since there's no pub time after online meetings, how can we invite our whole persons in the process?
  • Since we are in a very interesting period of time, set of constraints and opportunity, how can we reinvent collaboration in a way that promotes positive behaviours and meaningful results (for earth and each other)? And with this comes the idea of also being more inclusive, respectful, curious about each other etc.
  • How to stimulate an approach of combining, integrating, joining rather than 'starting from scratch' time and time again?

 (Ewen Le Borgne)


Contrary to my experience and capacities in facilitating face-to-face meetings I am now confronted with facilitating virtual exchange and co-creation of knowledge. My learning curve is steep! I realize that creating the trust required for exchanging and interacting online requires another type of preparation of such meetings. There is a substantial demand for information before the meeting starts, what in face-to-face meetings could (partly) be provided at the beginning of the session. Furthermore, the connectivity is crucial, video in interactive meetings are almost a must. Face language counts! (Manuel Flury)


I think that online facilitation is also a skill that needs to make people push the borders of their comfort zone in getting them used to slight change. One great example would be to ask them 'What are you dong now that you never thought you would be doing six months ago?' - so if we can change so drastically in 6 months, why can't we accommodate a gradual culture of change that brings in better dialogue, collaboration, engagement? 
My work is changing such that I now have to imagine organising workshops in a virtual setting - tried it out for myself, as a facilitator last week - and we may make mistakes as we go along in the way we try to use the technology and we can share those anecdotes with our participants who will appreciate that you have shared: part of being human in the interaction. I think that this is what brings the connection amongst online participants. And I think that the usual ice breakers in small groups also brings about the online bonding, just as they do in f2f situations - we just have to allow for this to happen more slowly in the virtual context - or facilitate it over several iterations to get to the same level as it would happen in f2f situations. (Krishan Bheenick)


In my experience, the main challenges are:

  • the effort required to match moments of participation with stakeholder capacity, seeking common interests that are within the reach of the participants (for example, do not expect members of a grassroots organisation to get involved in project designing or statistical survey) and supporting them when challenges arise;
  • the confidence to use a varied set of tools for democratic and participatory processes which exist today and be able to use them appropriately and/or replicate them so that they are useful for participatory processes which require any development intervention (creating suitable tools, games or activities which guarantee that everyone remains at the centre of the process, rather than just the most extroverted);
  • the recognition that the tools ‘can’t do everything’; that a participatory vocation must be evident in the gathering in addition to dialogue among the participants. This vocation is expressed in tolerance for mistakes, willingness to ‘explain again’, the ability to revisit agreements and redesign working plans etc.;
  • and a clarity around our role as external agents, even though we are participants, throughout the process; this means:  ‘motivating’ without ‘pushing’, ‘reflecting’ with the group without ‘conditioning’ conclusions, ‘sharing ideas’ without ‘imposing them’ and ‘asking questions’ without ‘suggesting answers’. (Esteban Tapella)


Facilitating an online event or activity depends on what you intend to communicate, who to engage, and whether the platform you intend to use is familiar with majority or can easily be navigated through by even a less experienced person and has all basic facilitation features (like raising hand, mute, etc). At the moment, there are a number of challenges linked to facilitating a live online event like unstable internet, level of exposure of both the participants and facilitators, level of concentration while everyone is not in the same room, etc (Robert Kibaya)


A cross-cutting thread: incentives for collaboration, relating both to how an individual feels triggered to collaborate, but also related to the wider organisational context that allows them to do so...
Also the topic of 'effective facilitation' could be broadened to 'process literacy / vision' ie. how all people involved in the collaboration understand process and can play around with it. By focusing on facilitation we may limit our lens to the role of the person(s) holding the space centrally but this process vision can -and imho should- be borne by all the members together. (Ewen Le Borgne)


Points from the agenda-setting



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