Before diving into 2021, I’m taking a moment to reflect and capture what happened in the world of FabRiders in 2020.
What I did
In 2020, I supported over 80 virtual convenings, collaborating with more than a dozen organisations in 2020. I led over 60 of those, meaning I designed and acted as lead facilitator. On the other 20, I served as Tech Host, which meant I was responsible for the backend, while others ran the show.
I did manage to lead four face to face convenings in the first quarter, all in London. In the second quarter, when lockdowns were in full swing, and people were quickly transitioning from face to face to virtual, I supported 30 virtual sessions. So the virtual meant my capacity to facilitate events was greatly increased.
What I didn’t do
I never once boarded an aeroplane. Let me repeat that: I NEVER ONCE BOARDED AN AEROPLANE in 2020. I don’t think I’ve ever gone a year without getting on an aeroplane. Maybe there was a year in the ’80s? Since March 11th, I have worked entirely from my desk in Stroud and continue to do so.
I also didn’t get bored or lonely.
What I learned
Of course, everyone learned loads in 2020, and I’ve very much appreciated what others have shared during this time of unparalleled challenges. To contribute, here’s critical learnings I’ve had this year:
- Travel isn’t a necessity. I learned and did more this year than any other without leaving my adopted home-town of Stroud. And I was quite happy not to be stressed or taking the time to travel.
- Working virtually and particularly with running virtual events means it’s easy to over-commit. In 2021, I’m instituting a one-event a day rule, and that event can’t be longer than three hours, for my sanity.
- TimeZones are still a pain in the ass even if you aren’t travelling. One day, I accidentally triple booked a time slot with collaborators in different parts of the planet and didn’t realise it until it was too late.
- Supporting others to lead provides a lot of nutritional value. While designing and facilitating events remains a mainstream of work, a highlight for 2020 played different roles in running a virtual event and working behind the scenes while others ran the show.
- Language interpreters are lovely people. A strong focus of Solferino and IFRC has been on inclusivity within a global network of humanitarians. Working closely with Laurent Fernandez, how to support interpreters used to working in a physical booth transition to working digitally/online.
- Handhold when people are faced with big challenges. I learned a hell of a lot by being part of the RightsCon Team and supporting session organisers who had pitched for a face-to-face workshop in Costa Rica, run their sessions online. It was critical to take care of the backend, the tech elements, allowing session organisers to focus on session design and content.
- Just because you CAN run a virtual session doesn’t mean you SHOULD. “Zoom-Fatigue” wasn’t just about the number of meetings people were doing from their homes, but also the meaninglessness of those meetings. Every convening should be valuable and productive – focus on creating outputs or actions.
- Small (no bigger than four) and diverse breakout groups are critical for successful virtual meetings. Hearing “this is the first time I’ve felt part of a global network” after running a virtual workshop with lots of small group breakouts with volunteers for the Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies was an eye-opener.
- Addressing power-dynamics is harder in the virtual space but critical. Just as attention was being drawn to systemic racism via the Black Lives Matter protests, this post from Aspiration helped us make sure our practices weren’t contributing to and supporting broader social injustice.
My Anchors in 2020
There’s been a strand of long-term engagements that I’ve been grateful for keeping me grounded and providing foundations for other work.
- I valued becoming a member of IFRC’s Solferino Academy digital team with Shaun Hazeldine, Heather Leson and Laurent Fernandez. We started by running digital volunteers’ convenings to compare and share their experiences responding to COVID-19; then ran leadership think tank sessions and a governing board meeting. The team grew by the time we got to the Climate:Red Summit in September, with over 8,000 people attending over 36 hours. We had a mantra of “test, test, test!” and “prep, prep, prep!”. We captured learnings here:
- Another anchor has been leading the Data Champions programme for 360giving. We are not using the term “Data Champions” to exceptionalise the individuals in the programme. Instead, we see these individuals as being aspirational in driving their grantmaking institutions to be “Data Champions”, using data to make decisions and take action. We hope to make each cohort function as a collective learning experience. Building a data culture is building a learning culture. This year, a big highlight was working with Mor Rubinstein on co-creating a data strategy canvas with the Data Champions cohort.
- The Centre for Economic & Social Rights was one of the first organisations to come to me with “we have a critical face to face strategy meeting that we now need to get done virtually. Can you help us?” This started a journey that went from strategy development to strategy implementation to project implementation and wrapped the year up by facilitating a virtual board meeting. Each of those virtual meetings was a vibrant and deep collaboration. I’ve also learned from them loads about connecting economic policy to human rights.
- Building on our Network-Centric Resources Project to seed networks of practice:
- With the European Centre for Not for Profit Law on enabling civil society organisations to impact EU policy on AI.
- With the Institute of Economic Justice to start a dialogue between economic policy practitioners and human rights defenders in South Africa.
- At the beginning of the year, also pre-pandemic, Rachel Rank and Anna Scott had recommended I try out writing blog-posts using the week notes format. It stuck and week notes have helped me build an audience, document, share learnings, and experiment with different writing formats.
And The Virtual Session Design Lab
The story of the Session Design Lab best exemplifies our journey in 2020.
At the end of 2019, Tin Geber asked me where he could refer people to learn about how to run effective workshop sessions and improve their facilitation skills. I’d been running coaching sessions for facilitators prepping for MozFest since 2017 and started to think about how I could turn that into a FabRiders’ workshop offering. So I booked the Better Bankside venue in London for March 27th and began selling tickets to “The Workshop Design Lab”. By the beginning of March, I had nearly sold out. Of course, you know what happens next.
I decided to transition the lab from face-to-face to online just before the UK’s first Lockdown was announced. I cancelled the venue and offered refunds. I also added content about running online workshop sessions and changed the title to “The (Virtual) Workshop Design Lab.”
No one wanted a refund. And it still ran on March 27th and was a big hit with those that attended. I decided to rerun it in April and started calling it the Virtual Session Design Lab. By the end of the year, I had run the Virtual Session Design Lab a total of 8 times and had nearly 160 people participate. And can I say, the calibre of people that have attended, I’m in serious awe. I’m also getting lots of inquiries from people who want to attend the next one (maybe beginning of February?)
The lab evolved a bit each time – notable changes:
- Instead of delivering the lab in a single seven-hour day, we divided it into two three-hour sessions on consecutive days.
- The ‘get your session peer-reviewed’ breakouts were so well received we added another breakout to discuss how participants could be engaged, before, during and after a session.
- We developed a session-design canvas, a template for participants to use in designing session.
Then event teams and organisations started requesting bespoke versions of the session design lab. We developed the Virtual Event Design Lab as an offering and have now run that with the teams behind AbreLatam, Mozfest, Rethinking Economics for Africa Festival, and RightsCon.
What I’m looking forward to doing in 2021.
First and foremost carrying forward the work and deep relationships I developed with colleagues and allied organisations in 2020. But also:
- Building on the Beta we built in 2018 and developing a V1 of IFRC’s Data Playbook
- Building a Virtual Events Playbook for the Solferino Academy.
- Supporting MozFest‘s transition to a virtual festival that kicks off on March 8th.
- Working on RightsCon’s Tenth Anniversary that kicks off on June 7th.
- Running The Virtual Event Design Lab for the team behind the Global Land Forum and others.
- Running the Data Champions programme for 360Giving and getting to run workshops on responsible data and data for leadership.
- Continuing to evolve The Virtual Session Design Lab and The Virtual Session Design Canvas (Beta)
That said, I’m also hoping I can make it through the year without working quite so hard. ;-)!