Design your next community-driven event: lessons from Data and Digital Week

by | Jul 21, 2021 | Insights and Inspirations

April 2021 saw the Red Cross Red Crescent’s first-ever week-long, participant-driven and fully virtual event organised around one theme: data and digital. Around 4,000 staff and volunteers from the Red Cross Red Crescent network gathered online to share, learn, and discuss data and digital innovations, initiatives, and ideas. Over 100 sessions were hosted by National Societies, IFRC, International Committee of the Red Cross, reference centres, and external partners, who shared sessions highlighting points of collaboration. 

All of this was facilitated by one small and remote team, based in Italy (Solferino) and the Netherlands  (510), operating on a low budget and deploying light technology. Curious to learn how? The insights and checklists help to set up your people, processes, and technology for success. If you’re interested in learning more about the content of Data and Digital, please find our report here.


IFRC Data & Digital Week 2021 Report

During the first ever IFRC Data & Digital week, April 19-23, 2021, our global network gathered online to share data and digital innovations, insights and ideas. Around 4,000 Red Cross Red Crescent staff and volunteers from over 130 countries registered to join around 130 sessions hosted by various National Societies, IFRC, ICRC, reference centres and partners. Read about some of the insights and highlights in our report.


Insights and Checklists for a community-driven event  

There are many guides and organising models for virtual events. We’ve been asked to share our organising model for Data and Digital Week. We built Data and Digital week based on lessons learned in previous virtual events such as Climate:Red (see also our articles on organizing teams and translation/interpretation). We were also much inspired by other organizations and activities, including unconferences and participatory virtual session designs.  We compiled the below checklists to share our most recent lessons learned and hope they can provide you guidance in organising your next community-driven event. 


Organizing for and with People

As with any innovation project, your plan starts with a mandate and audience. Then, the next stages include the people and the skills needed to achieve the goals.  The biggest advice that we can give is to build and engage with empathy. We aimed to centralise the human in all our efforts to be collaborative and engaging. In times of covid, this spirit is even more necessary.


Team composition and tasks

For Data and Digital Week we gathered a small coordination team taking up below roles and responsibilities.  This may look like a long list, but hosting a 4,000 person event does require concentrated effort to keep the ‘spirit and vibe’ in line with the event’s practicalities.  


Task / RoleResponsibilities
Team Lead
  • Determine event mandate, budget, and network goals. 


  • Coordinate with teams, internal (your event team) and external (your allies).
  • Production
  • Design and manage the content and information flow


  • Designate the processes and technology
  • Outreach & engagement
  • Conduct pre-event and during event  community mobilization: scout hosts and enthuse the audience
  • DesignThe event should have a look and feel that is not a ‘regular’ one-directional formal experience,  but something interactive and community driven. The design lead coordinates:
  • adjustable promotion slide decks (for the event at large, but also consider developing
  • adjustable promo templates for your hosts, for example via Canva)


  • website design


  • marketing collateral (flyers, etc)


  • branding
  • TechnologyDetermine the process and flow for the event with a
  • landing page and subpages (front-end) 


  • process to curate content in near real-time efforts (in the backend)


  • registration form 


  • host and participant database
  • CommunicationsDraft a story line well in advance. Consider proper time for translation if your event aims to reach a multilingual audience

  • Tell the story with blogs, posts and emails always charging the enthusiasm with shared with the RCRC network:


  • outreach text


  • social media management


  • images, videos
  • TranslationsIf your audience is multilingual, coordinate a team of translators 

  • Coordinate closely with communications lead to be able to inform translators about upcoming work in due time
  • Volunteer coordinationVolunteers are the heart of this type of event:
  • Recruit volunteers 


  • Train and support volunteers with the caveat that there should be something that they want to learn/share on the journey


  • Follow-up and check-in with volunteers to be sure that they are having a valued experience


  • Recognize volunteers’ effort
  • Monitoring & EvaluationHow is the event doing? 
  • Volunteers/Staff check-in to all the self-organised sessions (explanation - people organize content and event with no formal structure ) to see if help is needed and count the number of participants’  


  • Put people at the center with community guidelines. Train and share with all hosts. Infuse the whole event with this spirit of collaboration in a safe and open way. 


  • Put data protection policy/practices as a priority. During data and digital week, all hosts were requested to review the data protection policy and to cite it if they elected to record their session.

  • Volunteers reinforced this whenever possible.
  • Host leadEvent Session hosts are the heart of the positive shared experience. The Host:
  • lead coordinates on host training sessions for great session designs


  • ‘co-owns’ the event schedule deliver with the tech lead


  • communication and coordination with hosts pre, during and post-event


  • teaches the practices of community guidelines and data protection


  • Verifies all session content /quality control


  • Develops a FAQ and is continuously available for questions and suggestions


  • Follows-up with hosts post-even by facilitating feedback sessions and sending them a thank-you note
  • Participants leadThe Participants lead works closely with the team to support a great community experience: He/she:
  • helps participants navigate through the virtual event and 

  • Develops a f.a.q. and is continuously available for questions and suggestions


  • Provides input to communication 


  • Addresses and considers feedback
  • Regional coordinatorsWith a large global federated network, it is helpful to have regional outreach. During data and digital week, two regions assigned staff to help engage their colleagues:
  • Outreach and advocacy in their networks, including language support. 


  • Regional support to help host facilitate a great session


  • Coaching and mentoring for session design


  • Regional helpdesk
  • Community careA successful event is all about community care. Every host and organiser can build rapport and spirit. We appointed the Host and Participant lead to:
  • Set up a Helpdesk to answer questions


  • Supporting hosts and participants have access to what they need to participate

  • Volunteer engagement

    Volunteer engagement is key for any community-driven activity – they help to make your event alive and human. Adding volunteers to the virtual backstage (managing the event design experience) and front-stage (what participant’s experience) as well as having them lead community care/experience, they will become the eyes and ears of the collaborative organising team. We defined the below volunteer profiles to help with due tasks: 


    Volunteer profiles


    RoleTasks include
    Event production
    TranslatorBe available for ad-hoc translation requests; help translating and flagging chatbox questions to host. We aimed to have as much content as possible in the four official IFRC languages. Some sessions even had volunteers and participants sharing information and announcements  in the chat
    HelpdeskStand-by in shifts to answer emails from hosts or participants
    Reporters and storytellersReport on what's happening during the week or in session; write a blog; scout for hashtags and other mentions on social media. For data and digital week, we had volunteers contribute to blog posts leading up to the event and the final report.
    Headcount & in-session helpPass by sessions to count audience and see if they need help
    In-session support (if requested by hosts) (See also this article for more guidance on in-session facilitation and roles)
    Co-hostTech-focus - Manage waiting room, mute people, turn off videos if bandwidth is bad, assign participants to breakout rooms, answer questions in chat or flag them to hosts
    Backup helperTo ensure there are enough hands on deck. Task vary – could be crowd management, tech support, assigning to breakout rooms, answering questions etc.
    Subgroup helperVisit the breakout rooms to see if everything is ok and if there are questions
    Co-facilitatorPeople focus - Interactive crowd management, be ready to facilitate chit chat, make sure people don't overspeak each other, help them find other events of their interest; Help moderating constructive discussions
    SurveyPost-event: send survey to collect feedback from hosts; analyse results; draft a quick and easy report in blog format

    Instructions and expectations


    Volunteers are donating their time for your event so it is important you respect their time given, try to make it a good learning experience, give them ample space to be part of the team, and truly allow them to shape the event with you.

    We recruited volunteers via several channels and noticed that volunteers are most likely to engage when they already have some kind of affiliation with the organising team. If volunteers come in via this route, they may already have a sense of what to expect. Still, it is important to give volunteers comprehensive instructions and be clear about your expectations. We briefed our volunteers that we expected them to: 

    • Take initiative
    • Keep an eye for detail
    • Take care of the crowd, ensure they have a positive experience
    • Be available & easy to reach
    • Be flexible
    • Have fun on this rollercoaster!

    Outreach and communication

    Having addressed the people on the organisation side of your event, you should also attend to those at the receiving end: your audience.  Some points  to consider when you are coordinating:

    • ABC – always be charging your collaboration, content, and communications. 
    • Participants and communities drive the content. 
    • Open up the processes to share the ‘curation’ of the event. This improves ownership and buy-in.

    Key questions to consider: 

    • Who is the audience? 
    • How do you reach them? 
    • How do you mobilise them? (For example by calling people, attending community/network team meetings, email and social media outreach) 
    • How do you create momentum for your event?  (For example, Data and digital week mobilised many communities across RCRC and saw direct outreach through extended personal networks) 

    Process

    As a  production team, you need to set the right processes to facilitate the people that are at the centre of your event. And, you need the flexibility to shift with the need as the event evolves. Having detailed people management in the section above, this section covers what to consider in terms of processes: 


    WhatHow
    Set the parameters
  • The digital world is saturated with events -what is the added value of yours? Why would people want to stay online even after a long screen-induced workday?


  • Carve out which gap your event adressesses, which audience you aim to serve and engage with, and what your intended outcomes are


  • Find technology and tools that serve you. We used a simple Wordpress login for our website design, Google Excel sheets as production tables and Slack for internal communication. Use what people have access to with low barriers of access to maximise contributions across roles/organizations.
  • Advocate
  • You will need to share the word across your network to build up momentum and advocate for your event.


  • Ensure your leadership supports your event’s mandate
  • Plan
  • Plan your event far ahead and don’t underestimate the time and energy going into promoting your event.  See also the section “suggested timeline”. 


  • Take into account the timezones, public and religious holidays. and dates of other important events  for your audience


  • Confirm with your team who will be available for support when and clarify what other duties and priorities they may need to attend to 


  • You will need to know who you can rely on in case of an emergency and to help you do the heavy lifting, also in late hours 


  • Prepare your team for a schedule that goes beyond normal office hours and be ready to make long days. Or, conversely, team and staff up to support each other.


  • Define what is your online engagement plan - videos, blogs and more.
  • Guide
  • The content of a community-driven event is shaped by the community. This however does not mean that you should let the community sort things out all by themselves. Your job is to facilitate the community and to help them host their individual events. 


    • Develop and train hosts on the community guidelines, including data protection principles (We created community guidelines, FAQs and a privacy policy. Feel free to cite, reuse and revise for your events). 


    • Organise pre-event  peer-to-peer learning sessions, such as “how to build successful virtual events”


    • Collect questions and upload them in a live F.A.Q. 


  • Be available for questions and guidance prior, during and post the event. Try to coordinate questions and channel them to one inbox where multiple people in your team have access to.
  • LearnMake sure you hear what your community’s needs are and act upon those. This can be done through:

  • pre-event peer to peer sessions


  • “office hours” during the event itself


  • visiting the individual events to quickly check if it’s running all right and answer questions from hosts or participants if there are any 


  • survey and post-event evaluation sessions


  • monitor social media and follow discussions about your event
  • Be flexible
  • This is a community-driven event which means you should be open for feedback and ready to adapt to your community’s needs and demands


  • At the same time realise it is impossible to live up to everyone’s expectations. It’s better to take action and go with something imperfect than letting the aim for perfection block your processes and limit your innovative creativity.  Done is better than perfect!
  • Internal communication and coordination
  • There will be an overload of external  messages to deal with. Try to reduce internal noise as much as possible. Always consider who is the receiver of your message and what is the best channel to reach them. 


  • If you use Slack, MS Teams or another messaging application, use channels to coordinate topic-specific communication. For example, we used one channel for production issues and another one to share event impressions.

  • What hosts should do versus what the production team should do

    When coordinating with hosts, communicate clearly what the parameters of your event are, what the conditions to participate entail and share any guidelines you may have about facilitation or data protection. Also, be clear about what they can expect from you as a production team and vice-versa, for example: 


    Production teamHosts
    Curate content; build and manage websiteDefine and deliver session details: timeslot, speakers, description of the session, who the session is for, which language the session will be held in, which video conferencing tool will be used, and provide login details if needed. Prepare for your session to be inclusive and interactive if at all possible.
    Advocacy to promote the general eventAdvocacy with specific audience to promote for the host’s events in particular. Cross-promote sessions that are interesting for you too.
    Teach hosts how to run a session  and how to manage live interpretation. Provide  many preparation sessions to for hosts to learnRun the tech, arrange for interpretation if needed. Leave time for questions and participant engagement.  Be mindful of a diverse global audience.
    Register and communicate with participants for the general eventRegister participants for your session if you wish to communicate with them directly pre, during and post-event.

    Data protection checklist

    Managing a community-driven event means managing detailed data sets. From outreach to registration and follow-up, think of:

    • asking hosts and participants for permission to be added to a contact list for further follow-up
    • communicate clearly with all people involved what the rules are in terms of taking and sharing screenshots, as well as recordings
    • check the tech platforms and processes applied to the event against data protection needs
    • train staff and volunteers upfront to have data protection as a default approach and become advocates for it
    • write, share and train your audience on a data protection policy. You are free to use our policy and community guidelines as a reference. 

    Suggested timeline


    Week until eventMajor milestone
    6-3 months
  • Lobby for theme and dates


  • Arrange a team


  • Obtain budget


  • Coordinate strategic partner buyin


  • Prepare the technology plans
  • 13
  • Identify and inform early adopters tol help with outreach and coordination with potential hosts 


  • Kick-off with core team; clarify timeline, roles and responsibilities 


  • Decide for basic technical infrastructure


  • Define communication storyline


  • Define outreach & engagement strategy


  • Hire an interpretation team.
  • 12
  • Draft outreach text, website content and registration forms


  • Tell stakeholders about the event. Get their input into the design and planning


  • Prepare translators for upcoming work


  • Start website draft
  • 11
  • Outreach text done, translation begins
  • 10
  • Basic landing page goes live


  • Promotion begins


  • Define registration procedures for hosts and participants


  • Test and refine processes


  • Save the date announcements distributed across networks and channels
  • 9
  • Detailed landing page and subpages go live


  • Registration procedures communicated to hosts and participants
  • 8
  • Start  registrations and review if needed 


  • Start building initial schedule and make it publically accessible
  • 7
  • Registrations, outreach, communications


  • Preparation calls for hosts, supporters, volunteers
  • 6
  • Registrations, outreach, communications


  • Preparation calls for hosts, supporters, volunteers
  • 5
  • Registrations, outreach, communications


  • Preparation calls for hosts, supporters, volunteers
  • 4
  • Training sessions for hosts


  • Recruit and brief volunteers 


  • Detailed staffing plan
  • 3
  • Send reminder for submissions
  • 2
  • Deadline for submissions


  • Communicate final agenda
  • 1
  • Test-run your tech set-up


  • Send event reminder to your network

  • Event week
  • Run office hours and a helpdesk for questions for hosts and participants


  • Manage social media content
  • 1 week post-event
  • Organise feedback session for hosts and participants


  • Send thank you to volunteers, hosts and participants ans share quick insights - what were hot topics, how many people attended etc. 


  • Blog outcomes


  • Write report summary - key insights
  • 2 weeks post-event
  • Draft internal and external reports


  • Share any other blog posts and videos on the content
  • > 3 weeks post-event
  • Share lessons learned, publish blogs

  • Website design and branding

    Your event website may very well be the first touch-point that a potential attendee (or customer) has with your brand and the event itself. It is essential that you clearly communicate the brand of the event here.

    If you are using an event management platform or plugin for your event, you must have the ability of using custom fonts, colours and CSS for your website. You’ll also want to make sure that you can remove any event software branding. It’s your event and your website. You should have the option of branding it the way you want. The previous points must be considered before going for a particular solution. 

    Digital branding questions to ask yourself:

    • What are the fonts, colours, logos and themes of your event?

    • Does your event website match your event branding?

    • Are you able to use custom CSS to customise your event website to your specifications?

    • If you are using an event management platform to manage your event website, do you have the ability to remove your provider’s branding?


    Technology and information management

    Besides engagement with people and streamlined processes, your virtual event relies on deploying the right technology and information management flows. You don’t need state-of-the-art technology – but you need commitment from tech-savvy people to ensure the basic infrastructure and workflows are in place.

    For a dense event across several days such as the Data & Digital Week, you want:

    • to have an information management system that allows you to manage both session details (e.g. when, what is it about, who’s organizing, etc.) and details about the audience’s engagement  (e.g. how many people registered as a whole, how many people by session, maybe where they are form maybe, etc.), but also allowing to manage your support team (who supports what session, what support is required, etc.);
    • to enable the audience to register (to the whole event or to parts of it maybe), and to access the sessions in due time;
    • to raise people’s interest and make sure they know how to attend.

    Our mottos for the Data & Digital Week:

    • Build a solution to facilitate
    • Keep the technology and process simple
    • Use and let others use the tools that they are comfortable with
    • Complement and tweak to meet your needs

    More concretely, how did we do it?

    • Session hosts could use the video conferencing tool that they preferred. We created a space for them to push the link to and information on their session to the audience. Our solution was a general infrastructure that hosts could plug their sessions in.
    • We used limited number of tools that we already had and “mastered”: 
      • the Solferino Academy wordpress website, for registration to the event and to access the sessions calendar / links;
      • (a lot of) emails with session hosts;
      • a series of online shared spreadsheets to collect session data from hosts upfront, and session audience numbers.
      • a Slack channel for the organizing team to coordinate live.
    • We complemented these tools with an affordable WordPress add-on (EventON) that allows managing and publishing an events calendar. We tweaked its CSS to meet our needs.
    • We designed a very simple information flow for session management:
      • data is provided by potential session hosts, this data is input in a shared spreadsheet, and replicated on wordpress;
      • there were very clear responsibilities and shared rules on how to input new data / edit. 
    • We formed a small team dedicated to Information management, technology and design. The team members already knew each other and had worked together: 
      • one was the focal point to collect session hosts data and feed them in an online sheet that had all session details, with the help of the volunteer. 
      • one designed the structure to input data and made sure these data were replicated in the event management tool;
      • one person made sure the front end interface and its ergonomics worked well
      • in addition to this core Information management/tech team, we had volunteers in every session, reporting on session 

    What worked from a tech/Information Management perspective?

    • The information management process allowed us to keep track of data on the days before, during and after the event. We managed to reflect changing session times, titles, descriptions, etc. and even stored these data in several languages when needed. Even though a lot was done manually, we had a very low number of minor input errors and no major ones. The rules set for data management and the great direct communication in our small team played a core role in this.
    • The ergonomy of the audience-facing agenda (based on the EventON plugin) on the wordpress website allowed the participants to see ongoing sessions first, to filter by language, session type and organizer to better triage the sessions of interest among the mass of sessions.
    • Having the event “hosted” on the IFRC Solferino Academy website increased massively the traffic on the site, and allowed people to get to know the work of this innovation hug or explore other initiatives that we have. We had 10,000 visits on the website on the first day of the event and never went below 4,000 a day during the whole event.

    What could be improved or done differently from a technology/information management perspective?

    • Checking data input was a tedious task and could be automated by enabling the session owners to directly adjust session details themselves. The system we had didn’t allow that, which led to having too much of a human-hand in the loop, always a source of error. We however didn’t identify a cost-effective solution to make up for that challenge;
    • The process of registering and accessing the sessions was too complex as people sometimes had to register twice: one time to access the event agenda, another time to access some of the sessions that required registration. This confused people as they are used to registering to such an event once  and then have direct access to the sessions of their interest;
    • The EventON plugin is not optimized to manage such a big number of sessions with their  details. As we added more, the system began to severely slow down, up to the point where it could take up to 20 sec with a good internet connection to load the agenda. Definitely a challenge from a user experience side (who is used to pages loading in fractions of a second) and definitively prevented some people from participating in sessions if their internet connexion wasn’t good enough. For an event that aimed at being as inclusive as possible, this really did not meet the expectations. The access got better through the week (a couple of seconds with a good connexion on the last day) as we progressively removed past sessions data from the front-end – we didn’t lose the data that was still stored in our back-end spreadsheet!.
    • EventOn didn’t allow it to easily manage translation, nor did it have a functionality to directly show session times, originally displayed in Central Europe Summer Time, in the users’ local timezone. The users could see a converted time, but this needed to be done session by session. Definitively a tedious task that doesn’t serve engagement. 

    Feel free to reach out if you have more questions about our experience. We’d also like to hear from you about your lessons. 


    2 Comments

    1. OBORE MICHEAL

      Hello, everyone. Am Micheal Obore, a volunteer from Uganda Red Cross Kampala North Branch.

      I appreciate the data and digital report shared
      It has a full guidance of how we can have a successful project and full engagement of the people through team work to come up with a successful activity or event to cause change.

      Reply
      • Yann Le Floch

        Thank you for the feedback Micheal, really appreciated

        Reply

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