Translating a Two-Day In-Person Event to a Series of Virtual Gatherings

The Situation

Administration for Children & Families, Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation (ACF/OPRE) has worked with GLP over the last 5 years, allowing us to facilitate bi-annual gatherings of a national network of scholars who focus on research related to poverty and family stability in the U.S. Based on the successes of this initiative, ACF/OPRE selected a second cohort of scholars whose work together would launch in the Spring 2020 with a convening in Washington, D.C.

The kick-off, in-person event was not possible due to COVID-19 restrictions. GLP was asked to translate the structure from in-person to virtual and to prepare to facilitate the virtual exchange in a way that met all the original objectives, while engaging the new network members. The goal was to minimize the time people spent on their computers while maximizing the connections people make.

The Journey

Through a series of conversations with the client and the funder, GLP first prioritized and focused objectives for the kickoff using strong action verbs such as:

  • Identify possible synergies across projects
  • Prioritize elements of our new vision and mission statements

GLP sequenced a series of virtual sessions in small chunks of time, so that participants could tend to children-at-home and get physical breaks in-between sessions. We named work that participants could do on their own time to prepare them for the virtual gatherings such as: review research summaries and study ACF/OPRE’s research website. Lastly, we prepared templates to keep virtual presentations short and meaningful.

GLP worked hard to keep everything in a single virtual space including a master slide deck in WebEx and a Microsoft Teams site to house all files and facilitate meaningful ongoing dialogue among the team.

The meeting included opportunities for the scholars to get to know each other’s research, as well as one another on a more personal level. They used visuals to introduce themselves to each other. They engaged in discussion around what they hoped to prioritize and accomplish over their next five years together, and how the current COVID-19 public health crisis impacts them and their research.

The Impact

The feedback showed that most participants found the meeting to be well-organized and informative. All respondents to a follow-up survey said that the meeting was “highly effective” (the highest rating on a scale of effectiveness for the meeting). This agile and creative approach to the meeting ensured that the participants were able to establish a network of connections and support as well as gain an understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic might impact research and ideas for how to deal with it moving forward.