In the extraordinary year of 2020, we should have swiftly adapted to countless new things: wearing a mask, creative handshakes, quarantine rules, and quickly shifting work that went entirely onto virtual platforms. The tech industry had poured on us thousands of novel platforms and digital tools – such as Zoom, Miro, Mural, Padlet etc. – which were very useful in managing our projects online but some work-related challenges remained unanswered.
At ESSRG, we realised that even if these newly emerged platforms and digital tools were user-friendly, one might need other techniques and tricks to use them in an effective way to reestablish the lost face-to-face connections virtually. Due to the absence of our colleagues’ physical presence, it was challenging to maintain the participants’ attention in conferences, workshop series, or even in regular meeting sessions. After a couple of weeks into the new normalcy, we gradually got tired of staring at faces on our computer screens. As researchers and experts at ESSRG, we have been continuously thinking of how the online workspace can be improved: How can we make these events operative and attractive? How can we avoid the boredom of online interactions? That’s what the Stickydot’s team members, Marzia Mazzonetto, Maria Zolotonosa and Michael Creek, have a wealth of expertise to answer the questions that many of us had in mind in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic.
Stickydot is a Brussels-based consultancy company offering services in the intersection of science and society. Training for professionals working in the field of science-engagement have long been included in the company’s repertoire, but experiencing work exclusively in online settings gave birth to the “Moving dialogue online” workshop series. The team members came to share their professional expertise in online workshops shortly after the globally-spread quarantine. In light of this, the workshop series was designed and adjusted to the overwhelming online experience we all had toward the end of 2020. Every second week, workshops with small breaks were held uncovering five themes to unveil the potentials and challenges of online processes carefully.
“A shift in mindset” introductory session led us through the ongoing paradigm shift from engagement in-person to an online setting. We commonly reflected and shared experience on how our sector has been transformed and what barriers and new opportunities came to encounter us during the pandemic.
“Tools for workshops” part was more generic and practical by offering a range of digital tools (Zoom, Jitsi, Hangouts etc.) to be used in online engagement activities. More familiar tools such as Google docs or Padlet were explored in detail, in a way that we did not dare to do so before.
“Tools for participatory processes” part allowed us to dig deeper into the usage of platforms and digital tools in online workshop settings. In smaller groups, we had to reflect on engaging a mixed stakeholder group with the larger public in co-creation processes with the available whiteboards such as Miro and Mural. The moderator’s role here was discussed in light of the digital divide we might encounter in engaging diverse groups.
“Facilitation skills” workshop uncovered in detail the role and responsibilities of the online facilitators and moderators. We had the opportunity to take this role and try moderation processes out within small breakout rooms on Zoom. Icebreakers, brainstorming, brainwriting methods and games were introduced before choosing the most suitable technique to put our ideas in practice. Concept of equity and justice were articulated throughout the moderation tasks to bring our attention to challenges such as lack of participation and potential conflicts.
“Inclusion and evaluation” allowed more room for reflections on the participants’ needs. Inclusion of diversity was discussed along with gender and racial dynamics that deserve more attention when planning an online workshop. The evaluation phase of online events is an outstanding phase to gather feedback and constructive critiques to serve online workshop professionals in the long run.
Participating in the workshop series on behalf of ESSRG, we gathered our specific takeaways in a bullet points list. It is worth highlighting that the workshop:
- helped us to adjust our daily work to the quarantine situation
- made it transparent how the Stickydot’s team members organise workshops, facilitate, moderate and manage online events for big teams with participants from various countries
- let us hear the questions and concerns of others: researchers, teachers, project leaders from other parts of the continent
- provided us with the competence to select online tools for ESSRG purposes with great confidence
- helped us to maintain a stable, reliable project-based work within our team with much less effort
- guided us in co-creation processes that are beneficial for managing our online presence
- provided us with useful digital icebreaker tricks and discussion structurations
- helped us to work in several research settings simultaneously
- bought our attention to the digital divide and novel forms of injustices in online settings
- contributed to sharpening our facilitator and moderator skills
- pointed out the importance of short breaks when we are working online
All in all, the online workshop series introduced us to how online participatory processes and dialogues events could be useful and fun at the same time. The Stickydot’s team members implemented pedagogical methodologies by actively engaging and giving considerable space to our diverse group of participants to express themselves. They helped us to find our own ways, personal motivations and voice for online participation. We could all think over and develop our most comfortable online repertoire for participation spaces during the workshop.
The slow-pace workshop series taught us that online interactions might appear intuitive once we became familiar with the technological tools, but specific skills and scenarios worth developing to run online participatory workshops successfully. We gained more insight into how other professionals work in the field of the science-society interface. After the workshop, we had the opportunity to hand-pick those digital tools from the Stickydot’s collection that best suited ESSRG’s working methods. Little by little, due to the guidance of the Stickydot team members, we became more confident in initiating and moderating participatory and co-creation processes online.