For 25+ years, our work has primarily focused on creating spaces for people from diverse backgrounds and experiences to come together, build trust, and identify areas of shared and common interest, so they can work together to achieve transformational goals.
Over the past 18 months, we have been engaged in efforts to fully explore how those “spaces” can be moved into online environments, without compromising the integrity of critical trust and relationship-building processes. We have been pilot testing a wide range of platforms, technologies, and tools and are excited about what we are learning when it comes to the frontiers of online learning.
With the global impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, our collective “on-ramp” to using these technologies has shortened dramatically and is leading to incredible creativity and innovation. Our team at Common Ground, for example, just delivered a “virtual conference experience” for 400 primary prevention professionals across the state of Pennsylvania.
Feedback has been phenomenal, particularly around several unique approaches our team took to ensuring what several of our workshop presenters said was “the greatest levels of engagement I’ve ever had for any of my workshops—in-person or in online webinars.”
In fact, as the conference took place, anti-police brutality protests were gripping the U.S., and suggested the need for us to add a special session titled “Inherit the Wound: A Conversation about Race, Power & Privilege.” Common Ground designed the session based on decades of experience delivering diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training to a wide range of audiences.
Moving it online was risky, as deep and difficult conversations are essential to achieving progress on these issues; and deep conversations require trust. Our design adapted one of our most high-risk activities, utilizing special framing and intro activities, breakout rooms, and specialized debriefing techniques. More than 175 people participated in the early evening session with many telling us later it was the highlight of the conference for them.
“WOW! I am just blown away by the conference. From the quality of the organization and preparation of the conference committee and Common Ground, in addition to the outstanding presentations that everyone provided this week, things were top notch. As both a presenter and attendee, I was so pleasantly surprised at seeing the chat box interaction throughout. You found ways to engage [online] conference participants in authentic, deep, and also funny and light ways. I really appreciate the opportunity to take part in the conference, and look forward to seeing what you do in the future.”
Julie Hynes, Executive Director, Oregon Council on Problem Gambling
We have always been committed to ensuring that our facilitation work is engaging, interactive, inclusionary, and pushes participants to explore new ideas, new approaches, and new strategies, all while maintaining core organizational values.
Moving these types of conversations and processes online is not as simple as creating a webinar. It requires a complete reimagining of content delivery, as well as engagement strategy. In two special guides we developed for participants and presenters in the conference I described above, we included essential framing around shifting mindsets:
“As human beings, our status quo bias is strong. We prefer the familiar, the usual. But how amazing is it that we have this opportunity—all of us in the world at once—to step outside of our collective comfort zones, embrace the unfamiliar, innovate, and, in our case, see what it’s like to learn in a completely new way! As you celebrate your 30th annual conference, is there a better way to honor your history than to simultaneously embrace a new and evolving future? To that end, we have designed something unique and special for this year’s conference …”
We understand that comfort levels (and access issues) create significant challenges when it comes to online learning, stakeholder engagement, and organic interaction. The tools must feel at once both familiar and fresh. They have to be simple-to-use, even as they bridge the complexities of trust and relationship-building processes.
We believe that the most successful approaches to strengthening online connections will weave together a variety of interactive elements—live and pre-recorded video sessions, social events, surprise guest speakers, even contests, incentives, and give-aways. Rituals must also be an essential part of any successful effort to move organizational work online. We are actively working with a couple of our longterm clients to bring their organizational culture alive in virtual spaces through rituals, unique practices, and storytelling.
Over three decades, the majority of our engagements have centered on organizational development consulting, including strategy development and change management. We have extensive experience in the design and delivery of high-quality, interactive, education and training experiences, having designed dozens of planning processes and retreat experiences for organizations around the world—all of which were uniquely tailored to the needs of each specific organization. Today, we are excited to be on the leading edge when its comes to evolving those traditional approaches to learning, development, change management, organizational culture, governance, and decision-making.
Our team already employs state-of-the art online tools and platforms, synchronous and asynchronous distance learning, and virtual approaches to everything from training to performance appraisals, staff well-being, and coaching. Moving forward, we are committed to pioneering new methods and outside-the-box solutions for every aspect of organizational development.
When it comes to our virtual services specifically, our team has expanded significantly over the past six months and now includes two new partners, Rana Labs and Chadwick Cipiti Studios. Together, we deliver high-quality, high-impact presenter training, media production, and leading-edge virtual meeting and conference experiences using broadcast-quality tech and social media platforms that meet the needs of today’s constantly-connected (though not always tech-savvy) participants.
We’re learning, for example, that success in these areas requires both intentional action and a mindset that allows for organic, in-the-moment experimentation and risk-taking. We are seeing those of our partners who are open to new ways of working and are willing to give up some measure of control are finding greater success (and joy). We are finding that expressing core values through rituals and regular practice is an absolutely essential element of this work; as is constant reflection, adaptation, and a fierce commitment to creating inclusive, collective spaces for learning, decision-making, and advocacy.
If you have a conference or critical meeting that is being impacted by the coronavirus, we can work quickly to help you reimagine, redesign, and deliver a high-quality, high-impact, interactive, virtual conference experience for your members, partners, donors, and supporters. A virtual event will still focus on your essential themes and content; and will include the requisite (accessible) tools and additional resources necessary to help attendees integrate critical new knowledge and skills into their day-to-day activities and organizational cultures.
I enthusiastically recommend and encourage anyone planning an event or conference to reach out to Craig Bowman, at Common Ground Consulting. Craig and his team are professional, prepared, compassionate, progressive, and have a great understanding of how people learn online. This isn’t your ordinary virtual conference or webinar. This is so much better – engaging, effective, interactive, and very conducive to educating participants.