Alliance co-cordinator, Hani Mansourian
Child protection has never been more important than now. The pandemic has exacerbated risks for children all over the world, and particularly for those who are displaced by conflict or disaster. Lockdown measures mean that children are far less visible and, as a result, far more vulnerable.
So, the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action, which supports child protection actors around the world, needed its annual meeting more than ever.
COVID-19 required shifting the Alliance’s annual meeting into the online world. This could have been a recipe for a long and boring webinar – think browsing your emails while the speaker moves on to slide 184.
But without robust collaboration and the informal, important conversations this generates, practices, organisations, resources and research would suffer; and so would the children that Alliance members exist to protect.
In just 6 weeks we brought 100 presenters and facilitators together with experts in online facilitation to co-design and deliver a week-long event with a difference. It had 63.5 hours of interactive online collaboration (96 separate sessions), attended by 466 child protection professionals from across the world. We supported the Alliance to achieve the outcomes they needed, and got the whole conference dancing!
Working online can be difficult. Many of us have had similar experiences – people turn up late, struggle or choose not to engage, outcomes aren’t achieved, the time is wasted.
Avoiding the “double doom loop” is hard. It takes something special and sometimes even that isn’t enough. So we didn’t just do one special thing. We did four…
1. Make the design process collaborative
We think that when you’re trying to create an event where people can genuinely collaborate, you will only succeed if the design process is as collaborative as the event.
The best way to start is by asking questions. What is needed? What resources do we have available to us? What are we trying to achieve?
We asked in two stages:
2. Develop the right skills
While we knew that facilitators from the Alliance had world class expertise in child protection, at the Annual Meeting this would need to be delivered through an entirely new medium.
We put all facilitators through our intensive training in Online Consulting and Facilitation, creating a supportive community of practice.
Then we paired experts in child protection with experts in online production to develop session plans. Each learned from the other what they needed to make their session a success.
3. Find the right technology
There’s a lot of different tech out there for running online events. So don’t mould your event to the tech. Decide what you want, then go out and find the technology to make it happen.
Some of the benefits of working online include:
But for Alliance’s annual meeting we wanted to retain the things that made being “in the room” special:
To achieve this we used Qiqochat. This tool allowed us to set up multiple Zoom calls, with participants entering a central lobby then choosing where to go from a multitude of rooms to join the conversations within. Participants met colleagues from different fields and continued conversations afterwards. Each morning attendees could also join video networking events – a chance for a catch up with faces old and new!
With up to five sessions running simultaneously across the five days, we had capacity for 1000 people at any one time. While participants could vote with their feet, the platform also allowed us to bring everyone together to show and tell about the work going on.
Important subjects require serious conversations. They don’t come much more important than child protection.
However, in the online space it’s all too easy to lose connection to your audience. People switch off and quickly time has been wasted and you haven’t got the outcomes you need. Anything you can do to keep participants engaged and relaxed, do it.
So we brought back the fun! There was calming yoga in the morning, icebreaker games in every session, but best of all, we closed by dancing together on Zoom. Events are so often defined by positive moments of clarity and unity. This was one of those. What could be a better “we’re all in this together” feeling than 200 people grooving to Justin Timberlake together?
Working online doesn’t have to be a nightmare and it doesn’t have to be a less good version of the real world. To us, creating an interactive conference where people from all across the world engaged in meaningful collaboration to improve how we work to protect children was not just possible, but essential.