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


Julie and her small team of 5 people worked months preparing for a 2-day Workshop with 40-50 stakeholders from across the country.

The Workshop involved an intense set of activities that were to be facilitated throughout by a 3rd party with important decisions to be made.

Their concern is that months of planning has been wasted. Equally, they are worried that moving forward without input, ideas, and collaboration regarding the decisions to be taken at the Workshop leaves them in a quandary; stop their work related to the outcomes of the Workshop or make the decisions on their own without stakeholder input. They’d love to understand if there is a way to still do meaningful engagement without being in the same room.

New Normal:

For many medium-sized group situations, with proper planning and the right tools, virtual engagements can be very rewarding. For everyone.

Julie and team had planned on a variety of different engagement formats; plenary (all 50 people), table breakouts (10 people per table), and small group tasks (4 people per group). With minimal upfront planning, these same formats can be accommodated by a progressive online engagement solution. More specifically, there can be public and private groups of any size. For example, the 10 people assigned to the table breakout on “policy changes” at the Workshop would have their own virtual space in which to tackle that topic, with no other participants seeing that virtual “table”. As well, as necessary, you can designate one or more people in any virtual space as a facilitator or moderator.

The organizers had hoped to utilize a variety of in-person engagement techniques during their Workshop. This included:

  1. During their plenary there were 2 key topics that they wanted the group to provide feedback and insight on.

  2. Properly configured ideation solutions (right framing of topic Challenges, ample functions to facilitate group collaboration and innovation, etc) are an excellent way to transition from in person to virtual in this situation. Incorporate active moderation across your ideation activity and you will get many insights and satisfied participants.

  3. The table discussions were based on the World Cafe method, with the tables rotating through the same topics and then sharing feedback.

  4. The World Cafe method - right down to the virtual look of the “cafe” - can be captured with proper setup and thoughtfulness to process...and the right online tools. Clear instructions and guidance at the outset along with table facilitation throughout are replicable online. Allowing participants to move from “table to table” can be accomplished with elements like flexible profile settings, online timers, and configurable collaboration tools. Real-time or veiled reporting, done automatically, also supports the methodology.

  5. The 4 person tasks revolved around collectively creating risks and mitigations on a variety of areas related to a new policy.

In their own private section of the online platform, small groups are able to collaboratively capture and rate the severity of their risks then capture and rate the strength of their mitigants to those risks. Organizers, as they can with many in-person methods, can also be creative in their approach, passing risks created by one group to another for them to provide mitigation ideas when online. Or having each group create risks and mitigants but then sharing with another group to do rating and commenting.

Of course, all of these virtual workshop solutions allow for 7/24/365 access that is not possible in person. If beneficial (and it almost always is), activities can be started collectively through an online meeting but continue asynchronously as participants “come back to the table” to add, edit, comment, or rate their or a colleagues contribution.

Benefits don’t stop there and there are too many to catalogue here but one important share is that unlike most in-person Workshops, almost all of the inputs are captured digitally, allowing for deeper, quicker analysis of activities.

Tools in the Toolkit:

Must Haves (based on this specific workshop scenario):

  • Ability for registration and creating private online rooms for synchronous and asynchronous virtual engagement
  • Video/Audio online communications, including easy mobile use and the ability to record the dialogue
  • Interactive dialogue, ideation style online tool that allows for team collaboration and problem solving
  • A collaborative narrative gathering/story-building solution

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

  • Automated text analysis
  • eWorkbooks
  • Chat tool (private and public channels)
  • Polls/Quiz/eWorkbooks capability
  • Online Dashboards and Scoreboards

Let us know what you think. What’s been your experience with conducting workshops 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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Success story

January 26th, 2020

Adam Coleman

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