During the coronavirus period, many people will have to learn new forms of remote work. For Forum Virium Helsinki, developing urban solutions in workshops of several people is a core activity. We quickly learned how to co-create and facilitate remotely, even in a large group.
We utilised Google software and in particular Google Jamboard in co-creation workshops on the UrbanSense, AI4Cities and Virtual Verdure projects.
Invest in the invitation
You should include all the key links in the workshop invitation. If there is a presentation, you should share it as a link so that participants can watch it on their home computers whenever they like. The invitation becomes the home base for the remote workshop: participants can always return there and find the necessary links and materials. At Forum Virium, we used Google Calendar invites with a link to Google’s Hangouts meeting application and Jamboard workshop application. In a larger workshop, it is a good idea to include a contact person on the calendar invite who can assist by phone if the technology does not work.
Start early and explain the instructions as plainly as possible
Ask the participants to join 15 minutes before the start of the workshop. This will give you time to test the technology, catch up and introduce yourselves and, in particular, go through the day’s programme. The programme and schedule should be put right at the beginning of the presentation and often referred back to, so that everyone knows where they are in the programme. Remember that the social situation is also different in remote work: in a remote workshop, you lack social cues. Therefore, you should prepare for the fact that a question is often followed by an awkward silence, ask for comments several times if necessary and make sure that all who are willing get to speak. The facilitator should, by their own example, encourage an informal way of working so that any anxiety about the new tools is shed away.
Keep the programme short and familiarise participants with the technology
The new way of working remotely and intensive participation put a strain on the brain. For example, two hours of work in the morning, a one-hour lunch break and two hours in the afternoon is a long time for one day’s workshop sessions, and a full day’s work. If you use a remote workshop programme, such as Google Jamboard, that the participants are not familiar with, set aside enough time to teach people how to use it.
Set a goal and plan well
Think carefully in advance about what you want to get out of the workshop. Look back to that goal over the course of the session. Plan the workshop materials and facilitation well. With the materials, you can help the participants keep up and focus on the right things. There may well be need for several facilitators if one leads the conversation, another helps with the technical platform such as Jamboard, and a third takes notes and answers questions. Be prepared for the fact that participants may be disconnected from the meeting for technical reasons. Include all important information, even the facilitator’s phone number, in the original calendar invite.
Facilitate the workshop the way you choose and have fun!
The two remote workshops tested by Forum Virium used Google Jamboard. It is an easy-to-use virtual bulletin board to which you can attach digital post-it notes and make drawings. Forum Virium’s workshops utilised, for example, the Me-We-Us method, in which thoughts and ideas are first written down alone, then in a small group and finally the ideas are sorted together into different entities. From these entities, the most pressing challenges are identified and measures are planned for them.
The small groups were formed with separate Google Calendar invites. These small groups worked on their own Jamboards as assigned. At the end, all the groups presented their own Jamboards at the original joint meeting, and these were put together to form one joint Jamboard. Jamboard also allows you to make a PDF of the results, so you can share the results immediately. Accept that everyone is still learning the working methods of digital co-creation, enjoy learning new things and share what you learn with your co-workers!
We learned virtual facilitation with these tips
- Grape People has made a good and clear YouTube video that introduces the use of Jamboard as well as the basics of virtual workshops (in Finnish).
- Facebook group for those interested in virtual facilitation.
- We held a joint virtual coffee hour within Forum Virium Helsinki immediately after the first virtual workshops. We shared lessons with each other and tried out tools and methods.
Photo: City of Helsinki, Jussi Hellsten