Best Practices

Publivate has created a series of short, practical scenarios of virtual approaches to traditional in person public participation activities. These are meant to be helpful for those that did or were intending to undertake in-person engagement or consultation activities - be it public, select stakeholders or employees - and are not sure about their next move


Iman and Sylvie had been planning a series of in person small group (8-12 people) discussions to receive feedback on how impacted stakeholders felt about proposed changes to commercial fishing applications.

They had been planning 5 stakeholder meetings, 2 each in Atlantic Canada and British Columbia and one in Quebec.

Their concern is that they won’t get the same “human factor” of holding an in-person session and that some potential stakeholders might not be digitally equipped to participate online.

New Normal:

In-person and online activities are not the same, although advances in technology and the average person’s comfort with online tools and applications have brought the two closer together.

Online small group discussions can provide a reasonable facsimile from a technology standpoint although moderators cannot as easily read the room as in-person. Moderators can use the same guidebook approach as they would with an in-person small group discussion and video/audio capabilities, used correctly, can allow even those with modest mobile phones living in low bandwidth areas to participate.

The online upside is that it’s proven that humans don’t provide their best thoughts when saddled with 6-8 questions to ponder in an open setting over a 2 hour period, the usual in-person format. Iman and Sylvie might contemplate a two step approach:

  1. Kick off each small group discussion with a 2 hour real-time session, similar to what is done in person.
  2. Then using online tools that participants became familiar with during kickoff, extend the dialogue for a few days, even weeks where they can participate at their leisure.

Allowing participants an opportunity to collaborate after the initial 2 hour session is over is often when the best contributions are made, something that has been researched and proven many times. (Our record for extending a dialogue was a 2-day online focus group that went on for 3 weeks!)

An online small group discussion because it is virtual, available 7/24, convenient to use and, ideally, flexible in terms of dialogue collaboration can actually add significant value. Throw in that, in some cases real time analysis and even AI-based review of text by users is available and the value is furthered.

Tools in the Toolkit:

Must Haves

  • Moderator’s Guide
  • Video/Audio online communications, including easy mobile use and the ability to record the dialogue
  • Ability to pose questions online and have participants provide responses

Valuable to Have (depending on objectives desired from the activity):

  • Interactive dialogue, ideation style online tool
  • Screen-sharing capability
  • Chat tool (private and public channels)
  • Polls/Quiz/eWorkbooks capability
  • Dashboard to understand and automatically show exercise results

Let us know what you think. What’s been your experience with small group discussions online? Do you have any questions about the format that we talk about above? Thanks for reading and sharing and stay safe.

Publivate has been a recognized leader in online engagement and consultation for the last decade with unique and proven tools, methods, and expertise to support a wide spectrum of online dialogue activities.

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