By Jon Ferguson
Whether we thought they were a good idea before the pandemic, over the last two years, we’ve all had a crash course in doing events and trainings online. They became, in most cases, the only way for many of us to continue to engage with our volunteers, supporters, members, and groups. Whilst we have discovered benefits to this format – e.g. the ability to reach more people across a wider geographic area at one time – there have also been disadvantages – e.g. lack of personal interaction amongst participants.
However, now that vaccination rates have reached those all important milestones in most areas and long lockdowns are (hopefully) a thing of the past (Omicron willing), we need to consider how we are going to run events and trainings.
Will they be online, offline, hybrid? How do we make sure they are accessible to a variety of people? How do we make sure that, in this ever-changing world of Covid, we keep ourselves and others safe?
Below, I’ll provide some examples of the strategies that the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has put into practice and what strategies we are still working on. Hopefully, these will assist you as you work through the same issues.
Questions to consider
In an article, written by Beth Koch of the ACF for The Commons, she proposed some questions that I think are important as we consider all the new dynamics of organising events and trainings post-lockdown?
- How do we balance the online/offline world?
- How do we make it inclusive?
- What are tactics that best work online? What are those that work best offline?
- How do we deal with online meeting fatigue?
- How quickly do we start incorporating face-to-face events and trainings into our schedules?
- How long will it take before some of our volunteers/members are ready to “get back out there”?
- Can we do hybrid events? If so, when do we do them? How do we do them?
- Do we always have to have a plan B or, even, C?
Not all of these questions will be answered in this article. However, they are the same questions that inform the ACF as we work to develop our strategies. And, I think they are important to keep in mind as you and your organisations work on what the future of organising looks like.
Supporter Base Message
ACF Community groups use Supporter Base to engage with and organise their group members, contact supporters, engage in actions, and host and advertise events. We have worked with Supporter Base to add a message to the event creation page. This message reminds the individual that, if the event is in person, they need to make sure the event is Covid-safe.
Covid Safety Page
The link for the message mentioned above takes the individual to a page on the ACF’s website – Covid and our ACF Community events. This page includes links to the appropriate state-based information on things such as mask wearing, density limits, vaccination mandates, etc. It also reminds them of issues such as getting state-specific Covid check-in QR codes for events, considerations of sharing of food, as well as handling shared equipment, tools, etc. For example, if a group is organising a tree planting, having the attendees bring their own gloves and tools to the event, or asking attendees to bring individual tongs to an event that is providing finger food.
With people being more used to using QR codes now, with the advent of QR Covid Check Ins, than they were prior to the pandemic, the ACF has started looking at other ways we can use QR codes. One way that we’ve started to incorporate them is as a replacement for paper-based petitions, surveys, etc. This has several advantages:
- It avoids group members having to constantly handout clipboards and pens that people may be leery of taking/using them for fear of virus transmission and that would need to be sanitised regularly to maintain Covid safety.
- QR codes can also include UTMs. UTMs are small bits of code that are added to the URL that the QR code refers to. This allows the sign-up/participation of an individual to be tracked to a specific group’s event or training. So, for example, if you were to scan the QR code shown at the top of the page and complete the form, we’d be able to tell that you scanned the QR code at a market stall that the ACF Sunshine Coast group ran.
- And, of course, being electronic, there is no need for data entry, including trying to read and decipher someone’s handwriting.
The Institute of Community Directors Australia’s “Agony Uncle”, Chris Borthwick, recently published an article on vaccination policies. It includes links to legal guidance from Maddocks Lawyers, as well as sample vaccination and epidemic/pandemic policies. It’s a great place to start as your organisation develops its own policy.
The ACF has developed its own vaccination policy, which is based on five principles. The policy:
- Encourages everyone that can get vaccinated to get vaccinated
- Recognises that some staff can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons
- Ensures that ACF will continue to provide a safe work environment
- Verifies that it will follow the advice of the Fair Work Commission
- Confirms that it will comply with government health orders, regulations, and laws
Tech packs for hybrid events and trainings
Recently, I attended a group meeting that had eight people in the room, sitting around a conference table, and two people joining via Zoom on one of the member’s laptops. It was difficult for the members online to participate in the session as fully as the others. In addition, when anyone who was more than a half metre from the laptop spoke, the people on Zoom couldn’t hear them, necessitating the person speaking to get up from their seat and move closer to the laptop. I’m sure many of you have experienced something similar or equally as frustrating when trying to do hybrid events and trainings.
The ACF hasn’t come up with a solution for this yet. However, one thing that we are working on is creating tech packs for running hybrid events. These tech packs would include, at the very least, a microphone, speaker, camera, and projector. The plan is that this will make it easier for people to engage and participate, whether they are joining in-person or virtually..
Hybrid events can take many forms. For example, there can be a central in-person meeting place, with multiple participants joining online. Alternatively, there can be multiple in-person meeting places, with either just the speaker online or even the speaker and multiple participants online. So, we will trial the use of such a tech pack in a few meetings and trainings at the beginning of 2022 to see how well they work in various context and what might need to be tweaked, added, or changed to the process.
In a breakout session during the Organising In a Post-Lockdown World workshop at the recent FWD+Organising 2021 conference, participants brought up the following ideas and considerations when determining how to run events & trainings as we move forward:
- Providing options on how participants access resources – either online or in hard copy posted to them prior to the event or training.
- Providing extra online spaces for people to engage with each other – e.g., Slack or WhatsApp – allowing them the opportunity to engage in those informal/networking conversations that they may miss by not being in person.
- Need to consider whether, in a hybrid situation, you include some sessions just in person and/or some sessions just online.
- Engage in “deep listening” with participants in the planning of either hybrid or online-only events to determine their level of engagement vs fatigue in the online space
- Leaving extra time in the scheduled hybrid & online-only sessions to deal with possible tech issues
- In hybrid situations, prioritising online participants to avoid them feeling like “second class” citizens – e.g., when looking for the answer to a question, ask those online for answers first.
- Consider the use of learning management systems for trainings to reduce the need for in-person trainings where possible.
Hopefully, the information and ideas above will be helpful as you plan your own events and training strategies in a post-lockdown world. One thing is for certain, it will take us all a little while to figure out exactly how we will engage with one another from this point on. And, it will require a continuing conversation with our volunteers, supporters, members, and groups, as well as our colleagues both within our organisations and in other organisations. It is a conversation I look forward to.
About the Author and Conference
This article comes out of a session from the FWD +Organise 2021 Conference. The session was called Organising in a Post Lockdown World.
- Jon Ferguson, Community Organiser, Australian Conservation Foundation
For the last 12 years, Jon (he/him) has worked in the Australian union movement, organising and campaigning for better working conditions for union members in various sectors. With a recent move to Brisbane, Jon decided to leverage the skills he had and move into the environmental space, taking on his current role of Community Organiser at the Australian Conservation Foundation.
- FWD+Organise 2021 was a conference held by Australian Progress for community organisers and digital campaigners from across Australia and Aotearoa to share practical skills, learn innovative approaches to advocacy and build lasting collaborations to win systemic change. Sessions included keynotes, workshops, masterclasses, and expert briefings. Access other conference sessions here.
- Australian Progress (Conference)
- Coronavirus infections_COVID 19 (Disease)
- FWD + Organise 2021 (Australian Progress Conference - Australia)