A Tale of Three Meetings

Learning the ins and outs of online collaboration
Photo: Keith Lazelle

This spring, the Floodplains by Design Culture & Capacity group hosted five Virtual Coffee sessions on Zoom that focused how to shift in person meetings to an on-line platform. Three of these Virtual Coffees centered around specific members of our network on their particular challenges on garnering stakeholder input while on a virtual platform. Jordan Jobe from WSU Puyallup took the spotlight for one of the Virtual Coffees titled “Creative Destruction for Better Meetings” and you can find the presentation here. Deb Johnson and her colleagues from the Nooksack were up next, with their theme centered around marking up visuals, together, on Zoom and you can find the presentation from that meeting here. Finally, Spencer Easton requested assistance with his upcoming meeting using spatial data and you can access the presentation from that meeting here.

Using Liberating Structure’s “What, So What, Now What?”approach, Jordan, Deb and Spencer share their reflections on their Virtual Coffee experiences and their subsequent meetings where in which they were able to use their new skills. Read on to learn more!

Jordan Jobe

Deb Johnson

Spencer Easton

Q

What did you want to learn at the virtual coffee going in? What did you actually learn along the way?

Jordan:

“I was hoping to learn some new, creative ways to develop a year’s worth of online team meetings, knowing that if people knew the meetings would be more interactive, they might look forward to them and start being more engaged and interactive right from the start. One way Nancy helped my co-facilitator and I was to think about why we are meeting (beyond “giving updates”), and to be clear on how to use different formats to inform, make decisions, or get input. Once we were clear on what the desired outcome of each meeting element was, we designed the process to elicit that outcome.

Deb:

“I wanted to learn more about meeting facilitation in general and methods for better collaboration/engagement. I’m relatively new to the world of meeting facilitation and find it really fascinating. Now that we are in the COVID world, I’m really appreciating also learning ways of facilitating successful virtual meetings.

Along the way I’ve learned many new skills –including facilitation skills that apply to in-person and virtual meetings. I’ve also learned a lot about how to conduct engaging and successful virtual meetings. This includes all the technical tools that go along with virtual meetings –Zoom, Mural, GIS web maps, and Google Docs. I’ve also just started learning about Slack and how it might be helpful.”

Spencer:

“I hoped to learn some ideas and techniques that I could use to structure and facilitate a productive and engaging virtual meeting around spatial data. Not only did I get plenty of great ideas for the meeting, I also received a lot of feedback on the overall process. The other participants in the Virtual Coffee helped me think outside of just one limited meeting and really expanded my vision for the effort.”

Q

What did you do? Describe how you applied the learning to your meeting/workshop/etc? What happened? What were people’s responses?

Jordan:

“My co-facilitator and I de-briefed after the virtual coffee and re-worked the agenda. We decided to email “administrative updates”in advance so we wouldn’t get bogged down, and we went through each element of the agenda to be clear on what the purpose was –this helped us allocate way more time for getting input on key items, and streamline the “updates.” Recognizing the importance of co-creating minutes, so that the burden wouldn’t fall on me, I worked hard during the first meeting to demonstrate how Google Slides could be interactively edited and encouraged everyone to make this process their own. By the end of our second monthly meeting, different participants were helping take notes without prompting, and a lot more information/detail was gathered. The first meeting was a bit clunky, but productive, but the second meeting was a lot smoother.”

Deb:

“We have applied the skills and tools we’ve been learning in the Coffee Chats to help engage our stakeholders and solicit their input. In one meeting in particular, we were focused on a specific tributary of the Nooksack River and discussing potential restoration actions for salmonids. We used Zoom and GIS web maps to discuss our collective understanding of the tributary and surrounding floodplain and to help identify/document potential restoration actions. It was a bit of a clunky process as we were just learning how to implement the virtual tools. I was running the technology component and summarizing input from the group. It was really hard to keep up with everyone’s input and troubleshoot any technical difficulties at the same time. Overall, people’s responses were very positive. Some people felt like they were having a hard time getting to speak and provide their input.”

Spencer:

“My meeting hasn’t happened yet, so I don’t have anything to report. But I will definitely be incorporating ideas from the Virtual Coffee into the meeting design.”

Q

So What? What was the importance of what happened? Why did what you do matter/not matter? What key lessons did you and/or the group learn about the approach?

Jordan:

“Because my role is as “integrator” of 5 other sub-teams (focusing on specific water supply/demand interests), I wanted to design a meeting which encourages cross-communication between sub-teams, and also sets up a process for deeper engagement and interactivity. I think that round-robin style updates can get quickly bogged down and take up time, so we wanted to design a more efficient way to collect updates and carve space for discussion and moving integrated elements forward. I think this happened during the first two meetings!”

Deb:

“The experience brought to light the skills and tools we need to conduct successful meetings. It was encouraging to find out that even with our limited skills at this point in conducting virtual meetings, we came out with a really cool map product that displayed the restoration concepts. The map was used to go out in the field with the landowners and discuss the potential concepts. This mattered because we made significant progress in bringing collective ideas to the landowners and they could understand the reasoning behind them. The landowners were then able to provide their input and even offer ways to enhance the concepts for better habitat and improved drainage for farming. The key lessons learned are: (1) we need more organized facilitation and time for people to provide input at the end of each meeting topic to make sure everyone’s input is heard, (2) we need to make sure we check in as a group to allow the note taker to capture the input accurately and concepts visually, (3) we should have one person take notes and another person focus solely on the technical piece of managing the GIS web map and input from Zoom–, and (4) Mural and Google Docs seem to be good ways to allow people to provide input on a screen rather than Zoom especially if you are having people draw lines on a map since you need to zoom in and out often and then you lose the spatial connection to your notes and lines.”

Spencer:

“The virtual coffee was a great opportunity to leverage all of the knowledge and experience within the Floodplains by Design network to help inform the local efforts I’m working on.It was fantastic to learn about what has worked in other watersheds and to get ideas from all across Puget Sound.Someone working three counties away volunteered to join the meeting and help with the facilitation because she was so curious to see how the meeting goes, which just shows how valuable the Virtual Coffee process was to building connections across the region.”

Q

Now What? What is your next move based on what you did and learned? What advice do you have for others?

Jordan:

“We continue to facilitate these monthly meetings and I think they are becoming more efficient as we practice the Google Slides skills. I think for this particular set of meetings, I was most excited to see other people taking over co-creating minutes and note-taking. Aside from this set of meetings, I’ve offered to ‘re-model’ two other (unrelated) series of meetings I regularly participate in, and have enjoyed showing how we can re-think what were pretty conventional, non-interactive meetings – there has been broad interest from colleagues as to how to use Zoom and Google Slides tools to make meetings more engaging! One very positive outcome is that one team which held every-other-week meetings realized we could make some simple tweaks to improve efficiency and engagement and shift the meetings to monthly – one less meeting!

Deb:

We are now taking the skill sets we are learning to different types of meetings and workshops. We are learning Liberating Structures to help provide tools for engaging different audiences. I feel there is so much potential for leading better meetings and coming out with more innovative and well supported outcomes if we invest the time in learning participatory facilitation skills. Some advice I would give to others -to take advantage of the FbD Culture & Capacity (C&C) Action Group by participating in the workshops and coffee chats but also getting involved with the planning. I’ve learned a TON by being on the design side of the C&C planning meetings and taking an active role in facilitating some of the workshops. Practice is the best way to gain skills and the C&C group is very supportive of newcomers getting involved.

Spencer:

“I would advise everyone to tap into the Floodplains by Design network for ideas and support when trying to design an effective process for collaboration. We’re all trying new things and learning so much when it comes to virtual meetings, and there’s no reason that we should each be doing it from scratch in isolation.”

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