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.
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 / Role||Responsibilities|
|Outreach & engagement|
|Design||The 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:
|Technology||Determine the process and flow for the event with a
|Communications||Draft a story line well in advance. Consider proper time for translation if your event aims to reach a multilingual audience
|Translations||If your audience is multilingual, coordinate a team of translators
|Volunteer coordination||Volunteers are the heart of this type of event:
|Monitoring & Evaluation||How is the event doing?
|Host lead||Event Session hosts are the heart of the positive shared experience. The Host:
|Participants lead||The Participants lead works closely with the team to support a great community experience: He/she:
|Regional coordinators||With 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:
|Community care||A successful event is all about community care. Every host and organiser can build rapport and spirit. We appointed the Host and Participant lead to:
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:
|Translator||Be 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|
|Helpdesk||Stand-by in shifts to answer emails from hosts or participants|
|Reporters and storytellers||Report 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 help||Pass 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-host||Tech-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 helper||To ensure there are enough hands on deck. Task vary – could be crowd management, tech support, assigning to breakout rooms, answering questions etc.|
|Subgroup helper||Visit the breakout rooms to see if everything is ok and if there are questions|
|Co-facilitator||People 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|
|Survey||Post-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)
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:
|Set the parameters|
|Learn||Make sure you hear what your community’s needs are and act upon those. This can be done through:
|Internal communication and coordination|
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:
|Curate content; build and manage website||Define 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 event||Advocacy 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 learn||Run 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 event||Register 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.
|Week until event||Major milestone|
|1 week post-event|
|2 weeks post-event|
|> 3 weeks post-event|
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.