COVID-19 has taught us three things for sure about engaging people online:
- It removes barriers by eliminating travel time, travel costs, child care needs, and inconvenience;
- People get tired of engaging online as their sole way to participate; and
- Not everyone has easy access to or the aptitude for online engagement.
Combine the above with the fact that people have always had different preferences for how they like to be engaged, and that they face different time, mobility and financial constraints to engaging at all, it is clear that a hybrid online/in-person model of engagement should be delivered whenever possible, now and beyond the pandemic.
By now, you have no doubt used a number of online meeting platforms (e.g. Zoom). You have likely also used some online tools (e.g. polling, whiteboards, etc.) to help augment the online experience and effectiveness.
As COVID-19 continues, a hybrid model offers online meetings and the option for some participants to attend in-person if desired/needed, in a room large enough to accommodate physical distancing. Post-COVID-19, you will have fewer in-person protocols and logistics to worry about.
Either way, here are some practical tips to consider when designing a hybrid approach to ensure all participants can hear, be heard and participate effectively:
- Consider having two hosts/facilitators; one responsible for the online participants, and the other responsible for those attending in-person since managing participants online and in-person can be challenging for a single host depending on numbers.
- Project the online platform onto a screen/wall and from a speaker in the room so everyone in the room can easily see and hear the online participants. Likewise, point a camera at the host(s)/facilitator(s) and, ideally, another at the in-person participants so those who are online can see and hear what’s happening in the room.
- Use online engagement tools (e.g., polling, whiteboards, etc.) for both sets of participants, including those who are in-person. Online tools can make it easier to gather and record input than paper-based tools. Consider having in-person attendees use the online tools on their laptop so their input is being combined with online input real time. Supply a few extra laptops in case participants don’t have their own device. If the latter is not possible, assign staff to enter in-person participant input into the tool(s) real-time. There are many to choose from, with the KISS rule applying here.
- If you use breakout groups, keep it simple by grouping online participants together and in-person participants together, rather than mixing the two.
To learn more about making hybrid models of engagement fly in your community, contact Shannon at sgordon[at]whistlercentre.ca or 604-906-0310.