How to facilitate remote AND interactive learning workshops?

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Back to the future: planning for long term impacts part four. 

In this fourth and last blog on enduring changes, we discuss what we learnt by organizing remote and interactive workshops, with practical tips to take into account the time, vision, trust, technology, and fun components.

As meeting physically has become impossible we’ve all had to find new ways to foster joint learning. This year obliged us to undertake a steep learning journey in relation to virtual meetings… 

At the same time we recognized that traditional meetings delivered through power point presentations often fail to generate genuine learning. One of the challenges we’ve observed with “presentations” is that they are often used to explain successes but not to discuss failures. Presentation style meetings also mean that the audience is quite passive: one person presents, a few people asks questions (generally the usual suspects), while the vast majority remains silent.

What did we do?

Reflecting on past experiences, we realized that the best way for peer-to-peer learning and honest exchange is through physical meetings, where we can build trust and have time to discuss touchy and complex issues in depth. So how could we design a virtual workshop that as much as possible resembled a physical one? 

Below are 5 components that we took into account during our durability workshops.

1. Time

We organized a series of four 1h30 workshops, a length where it’s possible to maintain a good energy level.

Workshops were done on a weekly basis, but bank holidays and competing priorities meant that we had to postpone some of them. Looking at participants’ feedback, it would have been better to organize workshops closer together, in a time span of 2 weeks, with two workshops per week. This would help keep the focus and avoid participants forgetting what was discussed in previous meetings.

2. Vision

The series of four workshops were designed as a package, to ensure a clear pathway for learning, with clear outputs. Information was shared beforehand so everyone would be clear on the purpose, structure, and outcomes. All the progress was stored on one whiteboard, which worked as an alternative to physical flipcharts.

 3. Trust

Talking about challenging issues requires a trustful environment. This was achieved by dedicating more time than for a “business as usual meeting” and by organizing break-out room for teams to discuss among colleagues they work close with on a day to day basis, hence have strong and trusting working relationships with. 

“Failed” interventions were demystified and stigma was removed, as each team was asked to present one intervention that did not work, assuming, and showing, that “failure” is “normal” and happens in every team and country.

4. Technology

For these workshops, we used two types of software: one for conversing and one for recording and sharing notes.

For speaking and listening, we used Zoom for our workshops in Latin America, which was reported by teams to work better than other similar platforms. For the workshops in Asia and Africa, we used Microsoft Teams. It’s important to check what works best in each area as technology plays such an important role for virtual meetings!

For note taking we used Mural, a collaborative whiteboard that allows participants to add virtual “sticky notes” and votes. An advantage of Mural is the possibility to zoom in and out, allowing us to have the content from the 4 workshops in just one place. 

Retrospectively, we could have spent more time explaining how to use the whiteboard as some participants found it hard and time was lost as they learned to use it. But it generally worked pretty well and many participants stressed that the most useful component for their future work was the discovery of interactive whiteboards. Technological novelty can be a two-edge sword!

5. Fun

Practical Action teams are passionate about their work… but adding a touch of fun to workshops can make a big difference, especially in a time where social interactions with colleagues are scarce. To do so, we used cartoons for ground rules, in Spanish and in English, such as these ones:     

We also organized quiz sessions in each of the workshop, located in a dedicated “Gaming room” on our whiteboard. Questions were prepared by a different team every time, with non-work-related fun questions! Here is an extract of our “Gaming room”: 

This is the last in a series of four blogs where you can deep dive into the topic of long term impacts, these are the previous three: 

If you’re interested to learn more or discuss the topics raised in this blog you can contact the author at

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