Inspired by Barbara Klugman's extremely helpful blog on her virtual theory of change workshop, I would like to contribute a few lines on my recent experience with visualising across different remote sites.
Our workshop was not about building a theory of change from scratch, but about enriching and validating the theory of change my evaluation team had reconstructed. The workshop was not totally "virtual" either: We held it in a meeting room of the organisation that had commissioned the evaluation; some ten staff members were physically present in the room, as well as two members of our evaluation team who facilitated the workshop. The meeting room had a large screen and a camera & a microphone that captured the entire room. Some five individual participants and one small group called in from different locations in Africa, Asia and Europe.
To avoid technical complications associated with real-time collaboration on a shared screen, we had shared a visualisation of our draft theory of change beforehand (via e-mail). For the conference, we used a rather large (some five metres wide) visualisation made of large sticky notes in different colours. Although those who participated remotely could not read everything on the cards, they could use their e-mail copies to check. During the workshop, the facilitators added and moved around notes following the participants' verbal instructions. I felt a bit like the weather reporter on TV when watching myself on the screen to make sure I pointed to the right places in our visualisation.
As facilitators, we made sure we never turned our back to the camera and that the remote participants' contributions received full and timely attention. At times, we had to interrupt discussions in the "real-life" meeting room so that the remote participants got their turn to speak. We tried to maintain a lively and cheerful atmosphere so as to capture everybody's attention - and to keep up the pace so that we could complete the session well within three hours.
Combining real life visualisation and digital interaction has the advantage of allowing participants to see each other while the facilitators work on the visualisation. If you need an electronic version of the visualisation after the workshop, someone needs to turn the poster into a digital version, which - ideally - all participants in the workshop should get a chance to see and comment on before it is finalised.
This may sound a bit "old school" but it works well when you work with a group bringing together people with diverging experience using digital media.
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