Blending Face to Face (F2F) and Online Meetings


Brief Description:

In international development we don't often get a chance to meet face to face (F2F). When we do it is important to make the most of that time. It is also useful to continue some activities online after the F2F. This page talks about ideas for using online tools to prepare for, maximize and follow up from F2F meetings.


History:

When to use:

Blended designs work when there is a need to reach people who are in different locations. For example, for the World Bank Group conference "mobilizing knowledge networks for development", we wanted to include as many people as possible, while realizing that many would not be able to afford to fly into Washington DC. Hence, we chose a blended design.

How to use:

It is important to design the whole conference concept with the view to blending the F2F and online modes as seamlessly as possible. It is well worth using multiple really good facilitators for the F2F component, as well as others who will moderate the online components, and then taking the time to ensure that everyone understands how to include the online participants. Design the conference to be very interactive in both spaces, so as to keep people engaged and encourage them to share their experiences of the topic. That way, you will learn far more than from a couple of "sages on the stages" who speak for the whole time.
  • Choose a meeting software tool that will work over the Internet, e.g. AdobeConnect. This has the advantage of sharing the presentations, audio, and gives a chat space for participants. It also captures the whole event for future viewing, which is a real benefit. You can also use video, but that takes extra bandwidth, which may make it harder for people using slower Internet connections. Freezing a photo of the speaker is a good compromise.
  • Mirror what goes on in the conference room for the online participants. For example, when the f2f people break into small groups, set up the same small groups in the online tool.
  • Whenever the audience is given the chance to ask questions, make sure to take questions from the online audience, too.
  • The online moderator/facilitator must engage with the online people all the time, saying things such as "we are just starting now"; "can everyone hear?"; do you have questions?"; "we are breaking into groups here, and I will change your screens to give you the same questions, so please write your thoughts in the new screen", and so on. The more interaction with the online participants, the more they will stay online and participate.

Tips and Lessons Learnt

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From the experiences at the World Bank:
  • For large groups, have at least one facilitator in the conference room, and 2 online facilitator/moderators. That way, you can keep the online people engaged and involved, and the in-room and online facilitators can work in tandem.
  • Before the conference, take the time to ensure that everyone knows their role, who they will be working with, understands the conference design(s) and so on. For example, at the conference on "mobilizing knowledge for development" we had multiple roles: a track chair for each of 4 tracks; a track facilitator; an AdobeConnect moderator for online; and a rapporteur (in this case, a junior professional took notes and produced a 1-2 page report for each session). Give them an anotated agenda showing who will work with whom in which room at what time on what topic.
  • Have several meetings with this whole group prior to the conference and address any issues, questions, comments, or ideas they may have. Taking this time will definitely pay off during the event.
  • Provide additional training/hand-holding for the online moderators if necessary. At the World Bank, for example, we walked them through the session designs, showing how and when the online participants would be involved. During these sessions, they made suggestions that ultimately improved the conference design.
  • Have the facilitators engage with their speakers prior to the conference, to discuss the chosen design (e.g. "celebrity panel", use of "wicked questions", "fishbowl" and so on). Resovle any issues that may arise as quickly as possible.
  • Have a technical expert onsite who can resolve any issues arising from the online software (e.g. Adobeconnect). And, if anything does go wrong with your online piece, make sure that the moderators tell the participants what's going on frequently, until it is resolved. Otherwise, they will simply log-off.
  • Some things that the online moderator can do to help engage participants: describe what's going on in the room; if participants say they can't hear well, type a synthesis of the talks; assure the participants that their questions will be put to the speakers in the f2f room; encourage online chats; ask for details of who is online, where they work etc.
  • If possible, have one or two "master" AdobeConnect moderators who will roam from concurrent session to concurrent session, checking in with the online moderators to make sure they are coping, and to resolve any issues if necessary.
  • When the f2f participants break into groups, do the same online - AdobeConnect has a breakout function. Explain to the online people what is going to happen. Then, when the f2f groups report out, make sure the moderator reports out from the online breakout groups as well. If there are only a couple of f2f breakout groups, you can put the microphone on each table in turn, to include the online people in that f2f group. Acoustics could be a problem here, though, depending on the audio set-up you have.
  • Make sure that everyone who speaks uses the microphone. This is essential so that the online people can hear. In small groups, most people will simply start talking, as everyone in the room can hear them, but the facilitator or track chair must insist that they use the microphone, and keep reminding everyone of the people who are online.
  • Work closely with your conference/event staff, especially audio-visual. Make sure they know and understand that you will have an online component. There may be software that must be loaded onto the computers that are driving your meeting tools. Several days before the conference, load this software if necessary, then test every conference room for sound quality, Internet access etc. Simulate the event even for just 10 minutes, to ensure that every room is set up correctly.
  • Bottom line - do whatever you can to engage your participants in both spaces, f2f and online as much as possible

Examples & Stories

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As described above, the conference "mobilizing knowledge networks for development" at the World Bank, June 19-20 2012 was a blended event. Using AdobeConnect not only allowed the online participation, but captured everything. The event can be found here:
http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/PROJECTS/0,,contentMDK:23189356~pagePK:41367~piPK:51533~theSitePK:40941,00.html
To see the actual sessions, click on "sessions materials and recordings"

Built into the event was a knowledge fair. Each day, there was an extended lunch break of two hours, so that participants could take their lunch bags to the atrium. There they could gather in impromptu groups at small tables to eat and chat, then visit the 30 booths (see under "knowledge fairs" for more details).

Who can tell me more?



Related Methods / Tools / Practices


Resources

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(URLs, photos, podcasts, we should perhaps think of a sub-classification of resources)

Blogpost by Joitske Hulsebosch: Facilitating the transition from online to face-to-face conversations and vice versa (April 2013)

Tags

Conferences, blended, online, f2f