We’ve been running as series of small group round table discussions with our volunteers to how explore place, planning, and engagement are evolving during the current COVID situation. This is the third blog in the series.

Throughout the restrictions we have been staying in touch with our volunteers through online webinars and round table discussions. A big theme across all of these has been how to best facilitate online. Here is a summary of some of the top tips we’ve shared with one another so far.

Setting up the session

  • There is a broad range of video conferencing services out there with difference costs and features. Take your time to find one that is right for you. There may be some restrictions or recommendations if you are setting up a session on behalf of your organisation. You might want to ask participants what suits them best.
  • Think about who can help you during an online workshop. Troubleshooting technical issues and managing the chat can be a lot to juggle as lead facilitator so ask other people to come in and help you out. Make sure any supporting facilitators are clear on what their roles are.
  • Make sure participants are sent clear joining instructions before the workshop or meeting. Including a link to any apps they might need or instructions for how to join via a web browser. This is also a good opportunity to ask if anyone has any communication or access needs.
  • Ask people to join in advance of the meeting start time. There will always be technical glitches so it’s important that you make time to address these.
  • Do a practice run and make sure you have a procedure for how to manage any individuals or groups who might attempt to derail the meeting.

Running a session

  • Establish meeting etiquette at the very beginning. Outline group guidelines and how you expect participants to respect the views and contributions of others.
  • Let people know how they can take part and input their ideas. This can include saying to people they can raise their hands or put questions into the chat function. Participant numbers will affect how the conversations are managed.
  • Your experience of good facilitation is still really important in online sessions, so don’t forget to think about how you can put your existing skills into action here. Be sure to consider how all participants will be heard, how facilitators can exercise good active listening, and make sure that participants are comfortable by including breaks and energisers.
  • Keep calm and maintain a sense of humour. Sometimes participants will be feeling nervous about joining an online workshop and can become even more stressed when things go wrong. No matter how carefully you prepare sometimes the internet doesn’t want to play ball. Have a plan B and just take it as it comes.

Planning is key to a successful facilitation of a successful online workshop. Ensure that you know how that conversation will be managed every step of the way and have a back up plan for if things should go awry.

We’ll be continuing to explore how the sector is adapting with discussions around the digitisation of planning and how we are experiencing place from home. Thank you to the PAS volunteers who took part in these conversations. If you are a planner and would like to find out more about volunteering with us, please get in touch with Erin Fulton, Volunteer Manager: erin@pas.org.uk.