Case study

Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action

Rees McCann and ImpactBasis taught us that it is possible to have an online event that remains as engaging, if not more, as face-to-face meetings. We reached more people, fostered more conversations, and produced more usable artefacts during this event as compared to our face-to-face engagements in the previous years

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. 

So we got to work

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.

Judy Rees calls this the “double-doom loop”:

People have low expectations from online events

They therefore, fail to prepare before and fail to engage during

Events therefore don’t have the high levels of collaboration they need

Low expectations also spread to the event organisers

To compensate organisers invite too many people, with insufficient clarity about everyone’s role in the event

It’s hard to focus when meetings are too big, or you don’t know why you’re there

The result is more poor engagement

And more low expectations all around

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: 

  • Centrally: we opened the discussion up as wide as possible. Drawing in all stakeholders to create an overall shape for the event
  • In detail: we brought together experts in doing things online with experts in child protection bilaterally to plan each session. Great content + great delivery and design = a great conversation.

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:

  • Increased participation. Online events have fewer constraints on numbers of participants, broadening the conversation
  • Eliminating the exclusion of those who are unable to travel
  • Less travel full stop. Working online is a great way to minimise the environmental impact of travel, particularly by air. 

But for Alliance’s annual meeting we wanted to retain the things that made being “in the room” special:

  • Opportunities for participants to catch up with colleagues and connections they hadn’t seen for a while, and to have those conversations “in the margins” that are an important part of why they come together in the first place
  • Participants to options to choose between for what they hear and where they go
  • The feeling of the conference as an open space; one where participants could shape discussions.

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. 

4.Have fun!

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.

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