This month, our content and programming focused on organizing and implementing virtual events. With the global COVID-19 pandemic, virtual meetings, conferences, and other events have become part of everyday life for many people, and the task of planning, executing, and evaluating them in STEM often falls to community managers. So, for our July community call we invited three members of our community of practice to share their knowledge and start a conversation about best practices.
Watch the three presentations from July’s call in their entirety.
- “It’s Dangerous To Go Alone, Take This – Non-Player Characters & Prepping For Your Virtual Event” – Tom Quigley, ConservationXLabs (slides)
- “It’s All About Access: Planning Meetings for Wider Audiences” – Rebecca Carpenter, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Virtual Academic Community (slides)
- “Evaluating Virtual Events” – Emily Lescak, Code for Science and Society (slides)
Some key take-home messages:
Make the most of your online event
When running online events, it’s tempting to take a format that works in person and simply replicate it on Zoom. Rarely does this work, however, and may result in subjecting your participants to endless hours in front of a screen as you bombard them with information. Instead, consider your objectives and then plan backwards from there. This process will help you plan your schedule, select your platform(s), and evaluate your outcomes.
Don’t try to go it alone
Even for small virtual events, you will need help. For example, hosting an hour-long community call on Zoom with two presenters will go much smoother with a moderator and at least one technical facilitator to monitor the chat and troubleshoot any behind-the scenes issues. For larger events, you may want to consider mobilizing additional volunteers to act as mentors or facilitators.
Consider the needs of your participants
For some, virtual events are easier than in-person events, but the reverse is also true. When planning your event, it’s a good idea to ask participants ahead of time if they have any specific needs and how they would appreciate you meeting them (see the resources section at the end of this post for more). Time zones are a particular challenge for events that otherwise would have asked participants to travel internationally to attend in person, so consider ways of offering asynchronous or staggered opportunities to participate. And, keep in mind that your participants will need some down time during a long event, either thorough scheduled breaks or virtual “quiet rooms.”
Technology can make or break your event
Virtual events, naturally, rely heavily on available hardware, software, a stable internet connection, and your participants’ familiarity with the platform you chose to use. Whatever technology choices you make, ensure you have plenty of time for at least one (if not several) dry-run(s) of your event with volunteer participants. This will help you find the flaws in your event design and figure out ways to adapt content, scheduling, and technology choices. If you are using a platform that is new to many in your community, consider offering “office hours” ahead of time to help people acclimate, and host some sort of “virtual help desk” to respond to on-the-day issues.
Keep it real: evaluate the metrics you care about
How do you know if your event was a success? If you implemented a backwards design principle, with your event activities planned based on a set of predetermined goals, it will be easy to see what you need to assess. Make sure you have mechanisms in place to collect your evaluation data, including anecdotal feedback or testimonials from participants. And, consider what success looks like from the perspective of your attendees.
These resources were shared during the call, both by our presenters and participants:
- CSCCE guide to using virtual events to facilitate community building: event formats – a brand new guidebook with 12 event format “recipes” co-authored by CSCCE staff and members of the CSCCE community of practice.
- Code for Science & Society Event Fund
- CS&S Event Fund resources
- The Ultimate Webinar Livestreaming list – with comparative information on 65 virtual event platforms.
- CarpentryCon@Home session on virtual events – which is coming up in August.
- Movement building from home: a participant’s view – A summary of Mozilla’s series on how to build online communities with an overview of what worked (and what didn’t) for setting up online meetings, community care, self care, and community management.
- Online conferencing – an overview of how three conferences/events (Open Scholarship Week, csv,conf,5 and Remote ReproHack) were brought from in person events to online events and how they differed in their setups.
- Slidesgo – an online platform for choosing free powerpoint & Slides templates.
- The Software Sustainability Institute’s Guidance for running online training
- OpenCIDER (Open Computational Inclusion and Digital Equity Resource), a space for the open data community to get together and share knowledge in terms of guidelines, checklists, and other resources, with the aim to create accessible spaces and tools for computational inclusion, and to alleviate the digital divide.
- Three time zone hubs with repeating schedules for Open Science Room at Organisation of Human brain Mapping meeting 2020. Contact email@example.com if you’d like to use the graphics.
- Adalo – an app builder to custom-build your own web-app that will show different schedules to different people.
- Resources for making virtual events accessible to people with disabilities:
- Resources for finding sign language interpreters:
A big thank you to our presenters, Tom, Rebecca, and Emily, to our Q&A moderator, Stefanie Butland, and to the many participants in the call who contributed their own expertise, opinions, and resources.
You can request to join our Slack group if you’d like to join in the ongoing conversations taking place among the members of our community of practice. If you have any questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.