Thursday, June 16, 2011

Online Facilitation - Adapting to a Virtual Environment with Free(mium) Tools - Part Two

Following part one of this blog post (which shares some examples of tools that are either free or have a “freemium” model and which we think can be usefully used in online facilitation), this part two shares some ideas about how you might adapt facilitation methodologies to an online environment using tools that are either free or have a “freemium” model (plus IRISnotes – as we haven’t yet discovered a lower-cost option…).

1. Scheduling future events
• Use / / to quickly and easily determine favourable dates and times for future events (e.g. future conference calls). Not only can this be done to schedule your online event – you can effectively use it during the online event to efficiently schedule your next in real time!

2. Presentation
• Use Ignites ( / Pecha Kucha ( (timed presentations) to keep to timing in online events and make sure presentations are well prepared and maintain a good pace.
• Use Prezis ( for variety in presentations (a change from powerpoint), creating visual interest.
• Use short videos and/or screen casts via / or

3. Work in small groups with online “job aids
• Provide a participants list to everyone in advance, including names and IDs (or equivalent). Divide the group up into small groups, designating a host.
• Pre-create job aids using Wikispaces / Google Docs / Mindmeister etc. These will most often be templates, to which you can provide links.
• Direct people to your ‘job aids’ with links (plus log-in and password).
• Provide an online timer to keep time and remind people to promptly rejoin the whole group at the specified time.

4. Report back (after small group work)
• Use to create screen-casts for report back
• Create video or audio recordings – using computer and smart phone programmes / applications to pre-record report-back and share using or - helping to avoid lengthy monologues and add diversity to the event
• Use an online timer (such as to help with time-keeping and speaker management

5. Prioritizing questions (e.g. for a Q&A with a speaker)
• Use / / Determine a hash-tag in advance and provide this to participants.
• Give participants a few minutes to submit questions. To prioritize these for the speaker (so they respond where participants are most interested in learning more in a limited time), then ask participants to ‘retweet’ the questions others have posted that they are most interested in hearing the responses to. The questions most ‘retweeted’ are then prioritized and the speaker addresses the questions according to this prioritization.

6. Clustering questions / ideas
• Use a mind-mapping online tool such as (or do a hand-drawn version using IRISnotes). Set up the mind-map in advance and provide all participants with the link / access (to edit or view) or, just use screen share (or equivalent) to share the map and designate one editor.
• Ask all participants to think of a question / idea and then cluster these as follows: Ask any person to start, sharing their idea using instant messaging (this is important to keep it concise and to the point) - as well as reading it aloud (but not expanding on what is written unless someone asks for clarification!).
• The mind-mapper copies and pastes the idea from the instant message into the mind-map. With this done, ask for someone with a like / similar idea to share it (again, instant messaging it and reading aloud), which is then copied and pasted into the mind-map / or summarized by hand if using IrisNotes. Do this until there are no more like / similar questions or ideas. Then start with a different ‘branch’ of questions / ideas on the mindmap. Repeat until all questions or ideas are represented.
• The mindmap will clearly show where there is greatest interest, most clarification needed, most energy and/or ideas and conversation in plenary afterwards can start from here.

7. Voting
• Use an online tool such as to do real-time voting (with an anonymous option). Prepare the questions / options in advance, or generate them online and set the poll up in the course of the online event. Either-way, if you think you might vote on something, get familiar with polleverywhere and its parameters (e.g. more than 30 people and you may need to pay a subscription fee) ahead of time.
• One advantage of poll-everywhere over google docs and survey monkey (see below) is that rather than having to download the results as a pdf, you can actually see results live – as they change second by second, creating more excitement and anticipation.
• Google docs (‘forms’: and could also be used for voting prior to or during an event. Both enable results-exporting as visuals (pie charts / bar graphs) in pdf.
• All give you the option to track – or not – who responds and how, so you have the option of anonymity or respondent profiling and analysis. (e.g. how do responses vary by sector / region…)

8. Carousel
• Use video conference calls (or equivalent) for small group discussion (Note: make sure all participants are in one another’s contact list in advance and provide a participant list with names and skype IDs, as well as who is in which group for the carousel so that the host / facilitator of each station discussion knows who they need to include in the conference call)
• Use / google docs ( / mindmaps in place of flipchart stations
• And/or use IRISnotes for visual / hand written work in combination with screen share (can save and share doc with next group for further editing, or have same station ‘facilitator’ throughout)

9. Open Space Technology
(visit for the ‘how to’ steps in a face-to-face environment)
• Use instant messaging (e.g. chat) for people to submit topics / questions to schedule
• Prepare a blank timetable (in word / google docs / and copy and paste across questions and topics as they are submitted
• Provide each topic ‘host’ a few minutes to decide where they would like to capture the key points of the discussion as it progresses (e.g. / google docs / / irisnotes), to set up the appropriate ‘page’ and send you the link plus log-in / password if necessary. Note: If you prefer, you could just pre-determine that everyone will use (for example) a wiki and provide the topic hosts with links to appropriate wiki pages - labeled topic x through to topic y.
• In the same doc as the timetable, include the following info:
(a) Who is hosting the conversation (plus their Skype ID)
(b) Links to the page(s) where the conversation will be captured, plus log-in / password if necessary.
• Use a screen share tool (e.g. Skype screen share) to share the timetable with everyone as it is developed
• Ask participants to instant message the topic host when they wish to join a conversation
• As the facilitator, keep time and use instant messaging to inform groups when they have 10 mins / 5 mins / 0 mins until the end of their session (OR use an online timer such as and then invite everyone to revisit the timetable for information on where to go for their next conversation.
• Use Skype conference calls (or equivalent) for small group discussion, in combination with Skype screen share as necessary.

10. World Café
(visit theworldcafé.com for the ‘how to’ steps in a face-to-face environment)
• Provide a participants list to everyone in advance, including names and Skype IDs (or equivalent). Include also in this list some coding (in a table) to facilitate organizing three different groupings of 4 participants for each round of the World Café, and nominating a host.
For example, for the first round of the World Café / first grouping of 4, you might group people by simply going through the participant list organized alphabetically by surname, and counting people into groups of four – giving each person a letter next to their name – e.g. the first four participants would be coded ‘Group A’, the second four ‘Group B’ etc. For the second grouping of four participants, go back through the list and this time number them from 1 through to the total number of participants / 4 (e.g. if you had 40 participants you would number them 1-10 four times. For the second round of the World Café, all the 1’s will chat together, all the 2’s together, etc. Then for the third round, you might assign different symbols or colours. You choose – the important thing is to determine in advance how you will group everyone, and include this ‘coding’ in the participants list so it is clear and easy to create the groupings.
Additionally it is important that, for each round of the World Café, you designate clearly in the participant list who is responsible for hosting the conversation (i.e. hosting the Skype call, keeping time and making sure everyone contributes!)
• Once everyone is clear about with whom they will chat in the first round and who is hosting the call (plus their Skype ID), you can launch round one. But first – set an online timer (such as that everyone can see and which will ring to call everyone back into plenary.
• Back in plenary, take some highlights ‘popcorn’ style from each group (call on the hosts of each group of four) and capture these in / google doc / / irisnotes using screen share at the same time.
• Repeat.

11. Point and counterpoint (read the description of this methodology for the ‘how to’ steps in a face-to-face environment in the book: Thaigi’s 100 Favourite Games)
• Provide a participants list to everyone in advance, including names and Skype IDs (or equivalent).
• With everyone on the conference call, use (or google forms / or to gauge participant’s positions regarding a controversial statement. Set the poll/survey question up in advance, putting opposing controversial statements at either end of a scale of 1-10, with 10 fields in between into which they must enter their first name. (You need the names later!) Give participants only 30 seconds to decide where they are on the scale.
• As soon as you have all the results, generate the report (export the results) and share this with participants using Skype screenshare (or equivalent). You should be able to see the names of all participants on the scale from one to ten. At this stage, make a comment on the distribution. Then ‘count off’ participants, starting at the person nearest 0, putting them alternately in team 1, team 2, team 1, etc. Note: Designate one (or two) participant(s) – you want to ensure there is an equal number of participants in each team) who fall in the middle of the distribution as ‘judges’ who won’t participate in the work of team 1 and 2. Then designate the person nearest 0 as the “captain” for team 1 and the person nearest 10 as the captain for team 2. They are then responsible for hosting two team calls (using the list of participants shared prior to the meeting).
• Use a tool such as / google docs / as a work space for each of the groups (having set up a space for each team in advance). Provide them with the link and (if necessary) login/ password and set them to work brainstorming all the arguments in favour of ‘their’ controversial statement – capturing all contributions on the tool provided. (This capture is essential for later.) Use an online timer ( to keep time and remind them to return to a full group call.
• Meanwhile, set up 2 quick slideshows. Make sure you can play both on loop. In the first, go through the results from the poll, entering one name per slide into the slideshow starting with the name closest to 0 (and remembering to remove the judge(s)). With all the names in place, make the slides with the names of all participants from team 1 one colour, and all the names from team 2 in another colour. When you play the slideshow, as it goes through the names, the slides should alternative team/colour one and team/colour two. You will use these to call on the members of the teams to share their arguments, as well as helping everyone keep in mind who is talking and on behalf of which team / position. A second slide set is just two slides with just the two team colours (no names).
• Back in full group, launch the ‘debate’, determining who speaks when using your slide set, until all the arguments captured are exhausted. The switch to your second slide set and invite people to ‘change teams’ and spontaneously argue from the other team. You will not have names, so just switch from colour one to colour two. Participants can only share if they are adding a new argument from the other team to the one in which they participated.
• Once all arguments are exhausted. Invite the judge(s) who have listened to the debate to give their ‘verdict’ with a brief synthesis of which arguments they found most compelling.
• Finally re-do the poll that you started with. Generate the report and compare the results! Have people shifted in their thinking?

Please let us now how you get on and what you think!

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