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Making it Work Online: A Rapid Response to COVID


I work freelance at Barbara Klugman Concepts, offering strategy and evaluation support to social justice funders, networks and NGOs. I live in Johannesburg, South Africa—currently, like many of you, under lockdown—and work with a mix of international and African groups. 
On March 16 and 17, I was due to run a Theory of Change workshop in London with the Urban Policy Programme of WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing). Instead we ran it online with everyone at home (Brazil, Canada, Italy, South Africa, US). Here, with their permission, I share some key lessons from our evaluation.
Make space for the personal
Effective thinking online requires calm, trust, listening and honesty. Even with a group who know each other well, in the shock of COVID, we made time to share each of our country’s political responses and the community, family, personal and work impacts we were feeling. The agenda’s 10-minute intro shifted to 35. It was essential.
Break up the time, allowing individual and couples thinking
To build a shared language and understanding needs lots of space for thinking, reflection and listening. Each person may have highly nuanced, contextually-specific ways of seeing, thinking and implementing their theory of change. Programming in big pieces of time for people to do some writing and thinking alone and then share their written texts with everyone else allowed all participants to see each other’s deep knowledge. This may be particularly critical when the actual conversation is taking place in people’s second language.  
Similarly, we worked online in twos. Couples then shared their work with everyone else to add, critique and draw conclusions. This helped ease the exhaustion of having to listen for hours at a time, often with bandwidth not strong enough to enable use of video. By doing pieces of work separately and then bringing it together in writing that everyone could read on their own or through shared screen, we enabled everyone’s substantive participation.
Use more days and less time per day
Don’t plan to meet for a whole day. In our case, time zones would have made this hard. Energy makes it impossible. In retrospect, I would have run it over three rather than two days, using probably two and a half hours max as a group online, and two hours of working separately alone or in couples.
Cool Trick: Strong facilitation
Participants repeatedly named strong facilitation as having been essential to the group achieving the workshop’s objective. They noted key dimensions of this such as being “extremely welcoming”, providing “a safe space”, “fishing things out that we needed to put in writing”, “respectfully” say to the group, “let’s not go down that route” and “ability to pick up issues and move the group forward”. 
In my view, this applies as much in face-to-face workshops, but facilitating well online means being constantly aware of objectives, tone and of each participant, without the benefit of being able to read individual and inter-personal body language.
Rad Resource 
I found this after my workshop. Irrespective of platform. It’s useful: Facilitating Remote Workshops (pdf).
Now it’s your turn 
Are there any tricks you’ve learned or sage advice you’ve acquired as you facilitate meeting virtually? Share with us in our new Evaluators’ Slack Channel, where you can comment, share links and even upload resources. It’s easy to join and free to use. We’ll see you there!
Barbara Klugman worked in the Reproductive Health program at the Foundation from 2003 to 2009. This article, including suggestions on how to comment on and add to the discussion begun here, is available at AEA365: A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators. A more detailed article on the work done during the workshop appears on Barbara Klugman’s on evaluating advocacy blog: What is feminist about outcome harvesting’, Gender and Evaluation.
Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.orgAEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.



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