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


Renee has been facilitating meetings at numerous levels for over a decade. Smaller internal meetings with her colleagues and larger workshops with external stakeholders and everything in between.

Renee has accumulated a wealth of knowledge and confidence. In fact, she has a particular routine that she follows when she knows she’ll be facilitating a discussion.

Now, in a Covid-19 world, she’s working from home and even when things go back to “normal” she is going to be doing a lot more online facilitating. So far it has been mostly small, internal online meetings that she has been facilitating. Her biggest worry is how to tackle larger discussions and discussion that may involve external partners.

New Normal:

Successful online moderation can be achieved on a regular basis by following a repeatable set of guidelines that you should ask yourself before any online dialogue.

Before the Online Dialogue:

First, ask yourself a few simple questions if you haven’t already:

  • What is the desired outcome from the dialogue?
  • Who is the audience for the dialogue?
  • What’s the right enablement/tool to support the audience in achieving the outcome?

You may find after answering these questions that the best enablement might involve something other than an online dialogue. Assuming that it does involve an online dialogue that requires someone to chair and moderate the discussion, the next questions to consider are:

  • What is the best format for the online dialogue? For example, if I have a large potential audience do I need to have more than one online meeting? Do I require particular tools (ideation, polls, surveys, narrative capturing, etc.) that can further support the outcomes that I want beyond ?
  • Can I ensure accessibility for those that want to participate? How much notice should I give participants about the meeting?
  • Do I need an agenda? User instructions? Should those be shared in advance?
  • This is also a good time to think about any guidelines that you would like to have in place for participants and share those with them. For example, if your dialogue is going to have anymore 15 people, probably best to consider more structure for your dialogue (participants are muted at the outset, questions only through chat channel, speaking limitations, among other things you might want to consider)

During the Online Dialogue:

Once it is meeting time, we suggest that you have a formula to follow. Ours is:

  • Ensure you are logged in early, try and greet and note people as they arrive online
  • Don’t wait more than 5 minutes past the start time to begin the dialogue
  • Walk everyone through any of the online functions that they may require (chat, raising a hand, muting, etc), explaining how they work and best practices in using them
  • Walk through the agenda ensuring that there is clarity on what it is that the group needs to accomplish
  • Finally, unpack your role as moderator. That you are there to support the group meeting its objectives and adhering to the agreed upon agenda while also advocating for inclusion, fairness and decorum from participants (you may want to mention some of the superpowers you possess as the meeting host in that regard, depending upon the tools that you have)
  • Introduce the note taker if that has been predetermined (best practice) or seek volunteers among your participants
  • If you desire to record the dialogue ensure that you explain why to the participants and gain their approval beforehand

As the agenda is tackled and the dialogue begins in earnest, do your best to gently enforce any meeting structure, prompt individuals as necessary (often a short note in a private chat is helpful), while seeking inclusive input on the agenda items.

Make sure that you leave enough time at the end to summarize the discussion, particularly any decisions taken or important next steps.

After the Online Dialogue:

Depending on the nature of your online dialogue, there may not be any formal follow up with participants. That said, our best practice is to try and thank participants a day after the discussion. Often there are follow on activities to highlight or to share meeting notes or the meeting recording, which provides ample excuse to get in touch with them.

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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