Key Takeaways from “Taking Prevention Online: Tips & Best Practices for Facilitating Engaging Online Events”
Recently, PreventConnect hosted two web conferences exploring what makes online events engaging, how preventionists can create engaging online events, and what implications the COVID-19 pandemic has on online event engagement. Recordings for both sessions are available now (here and here), as is a list of resources shared in the text chat. Below is a summary of what was covered in these web conferences.
Context is changing, but prevention is adaptable.
Within a month of hosting these two web conferences, the coronavirus context shifted, as it often feels like it shifts weekly. Some states are re-opening to a degree, some states and localities are experiencing spikes, and this information changes every week. While we may not be able to predict our COVID context a month or even a week from now and how it will impact prevention, we also know how adaptable preventionists are, and we’re equipped with many tools to help with these adaptations.
Primary prevention remains a necessary goal and framework, especially now as risks for sexual and intimate partner violence are more prominent. Ashleigh Klein-Jimenez summarizes this need for ongoing primary prevention during the web conference:
There is a big concern and rightly so that people and children are experiencing more violence right now, making advocacy and access to crisis services and resources super important.
And we also know that given the current context and how COVID-19 is impacting families, communities, and our society that there are increased risk factors for sexual violence and intimate partner violence, which makes our work around increasing protective factors to buffer against those risks more important than ever. For example, there is a lot of concern around children being isolated at home in environments that are not safe or supportive and we know that connection to a caring and supportive adult can build resilience and be a protective factor. While we absolutely need advocacy resources, we also need prevention to be continued and sustained. There also is a new opportunity to engage parents and adults at home — we also have increased access to parents during this time.
Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as the STOP SV and Preventing IPV technical packages and Continuing the Dialogue can help preventionists see the connections between what we already know about risk and protective factors and preventing violence and apply it to this new context during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, since so many preventionists and community members are taking to social media to connect, now is a great opportunity to refine messaging skills. Two different documents—Moving toward prevention: A guide for reframing sexual violence from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and Berkeley Media Studies Group, and Where we’re going and where we’ve been: Making the case for preventing sexual violence from RALIANCE and Berkeley Media Studies Group—contain great tips, advice, and examples for how to craft and deliver sexual and intimate partner violence messages that resonate with people outside the field.
There is no one way, one platform to deliver prevention messages and programming online.
To say we’ve all learned a lot about a bunch of new online platforms since March is an understatement. It sometimes can feel like there’s a new tool, platform, or website that can be used for sexual and intimate partner violence prevention every week! The key to deciding what to use and how to use it depends on the needs and capabilities of your audience, your purpose for using online engagement (Skill building? Information dissemination? Community building?), and what methodologies you’ll be using. Not all prevention programs need to be delivered in real-time, and some types of prevention programs, such as those that give information and don’t require discussion, can be delivered asynchronously through pre-recorded mediums that participants can engage with on their own time and at their own pace.
Every platform and method also has its own set of logistical considerations, too. These range from cost and ease of use to specific features and reliability for users. When committing to a platform or tool, consider the features, especially safety. Zoom bombing is a major concern, along with safety across other platforms. Luckily, there are many concrete tips on how to prevent Zoom bombing, and there are safety tips for other platforms, too.
Key ingredients of online engagement include accommodating needs during COVID-19.
There are certain principles of online engagement that are consistent from hosting online events prior to the pandemic. Best practices including having a practice session (or two!), identifying and assigning roles to facilitators and hosts, starting and ending on time, providing a technology tutorial for participants, leading and welcoming participants with high energy, and treating attendees as collaborators. It can be difficult to bridge the gap between in-person and online events, and online events often feel impersonal. These tips help bring human interaction and connection to online events that often feel robotic and disconnected. If sharing slides or other visuals, using bright images and avoiding wordiness on screen can help keep audiences engaged, too, as well as engaging the audience through different platform features and engaging them consistently.
As anyone who did online events prior to the pandemic can tell you, just abiding by the usual best practices from pre-COVID times is insufficient. Participants are mentally and emotionally exhausted, some may be grieving, and most are glued to a computer for hours longer every day than they were previously used to. Zoom exhaustion is real. People are able to absorb less information now than we could before the pandemic due to this ongoing stress and exhaustion. Prevention practitioners should be aware of this and look for opportunities for connection within their content and how to deliver content in more feasible pieces.
Online exhaustion is only one piece to consider, too. Many people do not have access to consistent, reliable home Internet, and even those who do have reliable home Internet may run into bandwidth issues or service outages. Technology is not every solution; so consider ways to engage communities beyond online methods. Some programs may need to measure attentiveness during online prevention events, and this fact sheet provides tips for how to do so in ways that encourage authentic engagement and respect safety and privacy. The document Leading Groups Online: A Down-and-Dirty Guide to Leading Online Courses, Meetings, Trainings, and Events During the Coronavirus Pandemic provides a few additional key points that are crucial to online connections during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Expect to do less with in-person/original curriculum or goals when online
- Make connections, and strive for connection over content
- Give yourself a break. Laugh off tech hiccups (they happen!), and be gentle with yourself. This experience is new to everyone.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created many challenges to delivering sexual and intimate partner violence prevention, on top of creating unsafe situations for violence to occur, death and grief to communities across the globe, and almost universal stress and exhaustion. We can acknowledge these hardships and challenges and also find creative solutions to building healthy, safe communities from a distance. Online events is one way to do that, and PreventConnect will continue to engage in conversations about advancing the primary prevention of sexual and intimate partner violence during the coronavirus pandemic.