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Taking the OGP Co-Creation Process Online – Managing Virtual Meetings

Cómo llevar el proceso de cocreación de OGP a un espacio virtual - Manejo de reuniones virtualels

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Throughout the OGP co-creation process, there may be a need to convene virtual and in-person meetings, including open or invite-only meetings, meetings of thematic working groups, or meetings of the OGP Multistakeholder Forum. The following guidance summarizes how to run an effective virtual meeting, including: 1) Hosting or leading a meeting 2) Managing breakout groups 3) Sharing visual content with your group 4) Making decisions with your group and 5) Platform considerations.

Hosting or Leading a Meeting

If you are hosting or leading the meeting, here are some excellent tips from development economist and expert in global health, education and evaluation, Ruth Levine. The number of participants impacts how you coordinate interactions, e.g., group discussion vs breakout groups. If you are hosting a group discussion, some of the most important tips are:

  • Preparation : Have very clear objectives for what you want to get out of the online meeting, what you want the participants to do or take away and expected outputs, decisions or follow up. Send the call-in information, specific agenda items, background materials, log-in details and detailed instructions on accessing the online meeting and any tool features that participants may need to familiarise themselves with at least a few days ahead of time. Consider accessibility and bandwidth challenges your participants might experience and provide dial-in options with toll free numbers where possible.
  • Planning the logistics: Have a co-host or co-moderator (or several for large meetings) assigned for the meeting, and designate them as such if the platform you are using only allows for a meeting to continue or certain features to be accessed when a co-moderator is online. This can help if the primary host experiences technical challenges or drops out unexpectedly during the call. This is recommended even if it’s not a technical feature of the platform you are using. Agree upon roles and responsibilities ahead of time. Also plan ahead with facilitators and others who will help with the logistics of the meeting on how you will facilitate the meeting, what happens if someone drops off the call, plans for entering, managing and exiting smaller breakout sessions.
  • Agenda building : Invite any additions or changes to the agenda at the start of a meeting; note if there is an “any other business” section at the end. Reassure participants that they can contact you off-line to suggest topics that need to be covered in a future call or through a round of emails.
  • Explaining mechanics of participation at the start of the meeting: Be clear about the rules of participation at the start. Depending on the size and objective of the meeting, all or some participants might be brought into the discussion by audio or video. For large meetings, discussions might primarily take place in chat boxes or breakout rooms. Clarify this at the beginning of the meeting. Start every call noting that those who are not speaking should put their microphones or phones on mute. Note that the moderator will call on participants to unmute and speak or ask questions. Ask that all participants name themselves in their user profile. Provide them with instructions on how they can do so. Ask them to also share their name and affiliation when they first speak. Encourage constructive participation and emphasize the importance of collective responsibility in ensuring a safe space that is inclusive and free from online harassment.
  • Maximising interaction: The typical attention span for an online meeting is said to be 45 minutes and this can be expanded by making online meetings more interactive. A good way to give everyone a chance to interact in meetings that are large in size is to introduce some icebreakers. For example: ask everyone to state their name, affiliation and location in the chat box and what they hope to get out of the meeting. Introduce some fun – or serious – live polls to allow everyone to express opinions and see where the group is at. You could plan for several such polls during the course of a meeting to maintain engagement levels. You can also ask speakers leading a meeting to pose questions for reaction in the chat box, and appoint someone to harvest and share the most interesting responses with the moderators or speakers.
  • Note-taking: Assign note taking responsibility to someone who is not moderating, so the moderator can attend to the difficult business of moderating the discussion and managing the time with a firm hand. The note-taker can also quickly email the agenda and background materials to any participants who do not have them handy. A good practice may be to have a document for harvesting ideas and notes from all participants so they have a chance to contribute.
  • Summarize action items: Clearly state at the end what the conclusions are, including any decisions or next steps. Also indicate when notes will be circulated and if you will be asking for comments on them. You can have a live google doc open so that participants can see what action items are being noted.

Managing Breakout Groups

If your group is large and you are finding a need to bring the whole group together while still having smaller group discussions, try the following methods:

  • Decide how you want to divide participants into breakout groups or smaller teams ahead of time. Avoid creating groups on-the-fly. You may consider organizing groups along thematic or sector lines.
  • Bluejeans, Google Meet, Jitsi, and Skype Meet all offer options for break out groups.
  • For a more advanced workspace, use Zoom’s breakout rooms to place people into groups and LUMA Institute’s templates in MURAL to prepare a work area in advance. Tools like MURAL or Ideaflip provide an interactive whiteboard space that can be used much like post-its and flipcharts in in-person meetings.
  • Appoint a lead facilitator or moderator for each breakout group and have them explain the participation mechanics and the objectives of the breakout session. If possible, ensure that there is back up support for the facilitator in case technical challenges are faced by the latter at any point during the meeting. Depending on time available and group size, all participants may be invited to introduce themselves briefly.
  • Have everyone brainstorm ideas in a pre-workshop session where possible, then cluster and discuss. Working asynchronously- in advance – allows the team to use their time more efficiently.
  • Remember that if you break the participants into subgroups for an activity, you may need to have them share their discussion with the broader group. Consider how that will affect the meeting time, decide who will do this and how.
  • Ensure that you provide time reminders on when the breakout session will end and how participants can re-join the plenary/full group discussion.

Sharing Visual Content with your Group

It may sometimes be useful to share visuals or documents while you are facilitating a meeting. Some considerations are:

  • Communicate the location where videos, PDFs, and other necessary files are stored. You can consider using google drive, Dropbox or Box. Try to send materials that will be used ahead of time.
  • Practice the logistics beforehand: Get your core group of organizers/breakout room facilitators/note takers used to moving seamlessly between tools: from video conferencing to chats to documents and back, for instance.
  • Collaborate, brainstorm, share artifacts and interact like you’re in the same room.
  • Be mindful of accessibility needs. For people joining by phone for example, this may also include making sure you send presentations or documents via email first so that participants have time to download/print off anything they may need in advance. Make sure the facilitator is explaining anything that’s visual and bringing in phone participants to contribute to the session.
  • Aim for simplicity – don’t overdo it with introducing too many visual elements, tool features, plugins into the meeting to avoid having to troubleshoot during the meeting.

Making Decisions With Your Group

If you are at the stage where you need to make decisions with your group – for example on selecting draft commitments for your action plan – consider the following:

  • Ensure you have a quorum among the participants who will join the call or are needed to make decisions. Complex topics with ambitious agendas have a better chance of success with fewer participants or with breakout groups. Straightforward topics involving fewer exercises still work with larger groups.
  • For high-stakes decision making, prepare calls with key participants ahead of time to understand where agreement may be difficult. Shape the agenda to permit time for discussion where it’s required. Minimize presentation time and maximize discussion time. Decisions can be made by simple majority or voting by a fixed percentage of participants, on a consensus basis, a no objections basis, or conditional agreements subject to any changes agreed.
  • Nonverbal communication goes away in remote workshops. How can you fill the gap? For a consensus vote, use webcams to get a “thumbs-up” from everyone or ask to see heads nodding in agreement. Emojis and GIFs in chats can enhance nonverbal communication too.
  • Use a poll, or the built-in voting functionality in Poll Everywhere , Mentimeter , or MURAL . MURAL’s built-in voting functionality also speeds up the process and allows for additional rounds of voting. Results from multiple voting sessions can be quickly reviewed so everyone can clearly see how preferences changed over time.
  • Be realistic about what can be managed in one session. If your agenda is long with multiple decisions needed, consider breaking up your meeting into a series of shorter sessions spread over a period.

Platform Considerations

There are many platforms to choose from based on the scope of the meeting, number of participants and features you need to help you to meet the objectives of your online meeting. A summary of this is provided in the Online Tools and Platforms page. A few important reminders are:

  • Aim for simplicity and avoid platforms or tools that are hard to access in areas with low bandwidth or unreliable internet connections. Ensure that the platform and tools are appropriate for the technical abilitiesof those you hope to engage. Consider the appropriateness of the platform/tools based on devices you expect people will be using to access them (visual materials with lots of text for example are not ideal for mobile use).
  • Whatever platform or tools you choose to use for your meeting, it is good practice to have an introductory video, demo, or clear guidance on all features of the platform or tool that will be used to ensure it is easy for participants to maintain interest in participation. An advanced practice might be to conduct user acceptance testing to get feedback on the tools to be used to anticipate troubleshooting needs or explore alternatives if acceptance rates are low.
  • Consider security and privacy implications for each of these platforms as they vary. Ensure you look into this important aspect of online meetings in advance and adjust security and access settings as needed. As the host or organizer of a meeting, please also ensure that you create a safe space which is inclusive and free from online harassment. 
  • Virtual meetings or meetings of any kind are just one way, of many, to engage people. There are other ways to achieve participation, through surveys, polls, teleconferences, mobile surveys, social media engagement and face-to-face interactions.
  • Ultimately, there are limits to what can be achieved online, even as there are many benefits to online engagement. It is not possible to simply take in-person meetings that were planned online without any adaptation for the medium and its restrictions. Similarly, not all conversations lend themselves well to online formats and might be better left for a time when face-to-face interactions are possible.

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