Making it Work Online: A Rapid Response to COVID by Barbara Klugman

Hi, I am Barbara Klugman. 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 16/17 March, 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.

Hot Tip – 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 minutes intro shifted to 35. It was essential.

Hot Tip – Break up the time allowing individual and couple 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 bandwith 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.

Hot Tip – 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 3 rather than 2 days, using probably 2.5 hours max as a group online, and 2 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

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 the comments below or in our brand 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!

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1 thought on “Making it Work Online: A Rapid Response to COVID by Barbara Klugman”

  1. Hello Dr. Klugman,

    Thank you for sharing your insights and expertise, especially as they pertain to such an unprecedented context, namely evaluation during a covid lockdown. Although we are all adapting to this new reality, you bring a particularly rich perspective as you are working with people across the globe and time zones.

    Like any work that is moved to an online or remote setting, we, as practitioners, have to modify and adapt our practice to suit this new modality. Perfecting this can take time, but the tips you’ve shared are a great way of quickly and seamlessly making the shift.

    The ‘hot tips’ you present in your post really resonated with me. As I was reading, I had lots of “aha-moments” as you articulated things that I’ve experienced over the last few months. They also brought up some questions for me.

    “Hot Tip – Make space for the personal”
    I completely agree that checking and connecting with colleagues is essential during this time. Although it can seem overwhelming in terms of time expenditure, the investment in these collegial and supportive relationships contributes to a positive mindset and helps to set the stage for an effective evaluation. My question: in practice, what is the most effective way to support colleagues who we believe may be struggling?

    “Hot Tip – Break up the time allowing individual and couple thinking”
    The online space definitely has a different pace than face-to-face interaction or collaboration. Online working sessions can be both intense and slow-paced – all at the same time! As you said, finding ways to “ease the exhaustion” is so important. I like your suggestion of working in twos as it is a way to “enable everyone’s substantive participation”. Smaller groups of people lead to more opportunities for individuals to share their voice. Nonetheless, this leads to my question: because working remotely can lead to a sense of disconnect, how can we ensure that our colleagues feel connected and included in all aspects of a workplace or project?

    “Hot Tip – Use more days and less time per day”
    Again, this is such a good way of adapting our work routines to suit our new online modality. Although most of us are now working from home, the demands of this new setting and the stress of our global pandemic can be distracting. I have found that, for better or worse, our typical 9-5 workday doesn’t apply to our new reality. For this reason, shorter bursts of work over more days can be much more productive than long, traditional working sessions. My question: how do we structure time so that it is flexible, but also high-yielding?

    In closing, I would love to read a follow-up post from you in a few months. I am excited to see the rich professional learning that comes out of this unpredictable context.

    All the best,

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