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Remote influence and participation

Influence and Participation methods have traditionally focused on person-centred, face to face meetings, focus groups and workshops. During the global pandemic however, this has brought about fundamental changes in everyone’s ways of working. These have involved making adaptations that have proved to be extremely challenging, both for people facilitating events and for people participating in them.

This section will set out best practice for how Influence and Participation can be run effectively remotely, while also setting out useful reminders as to the kinds of simple adjustments which can have a huge impact on the ability of people from diverse backgrounds to contribute.

Regardless of how Influence and Participation activities are delivered, it remains vitally important to work in accordance with the key principles of accessibility, diversity, equality, and reciprocity (getting something back for putting something in) to ensure that Influence and Participation is as inclusive as it can be.

Case Studies

Minnie's top 12 tips for online Influence and Participation

Minnie is our Mind's 2020 internal influence and participation award winner for her work on strategy development. Below she shares her top tips 

  1. Split the group to reduce the number of people on the call.
    We ran three 2.5 hour sessions all in one day, with 8 people per call, with 6 participants and 2 people to facilitate the discussion. I think these numbers of people worked really well, and people in the evaluation also said that they felt that the number of people on each call felt like the right number for a good discussion.
  2. Keep calls to a maximum of two hours and have lots of breaks.
    People on the call fed back in the evaluation that 2.5 hours felt like a long time, and that we could have done with shorter breaks, so I wouldn't go over 2 hours and would advise 5 minute breaks, rather than the 10 minute breaks that we had.
  3. Be clear what people can do during their breaks.
    This sounds obvious, but it was important to advise people to use their breaks wisely, turn off their camera, make a cup of tea etc., so that they feel ready and refreshed for the next discussion.
  4. Use Zoom private chat (or similar functions).
    In the evaluation, people said they felt that their wellbeing had been taken into consideration as we used Zoom private chat to answer people's private queries and for them to let us know when they were confused or worried about something. This was also helpful for me as a moderator to communicate with Mind staff members on the call privately. Don't forget to explain exactly where the private chat function is on the screen, and exactly how it works.
  5. Have really clear, well explained roles.
    We spent a fair bit of time in the introduction explaining roles, what these roles included and didn't include, and what the participants' roles were. Having someone to take notes and summarising helped me to focus on moderating the discussion and ensuring that everyone had the chance to speak; as we had such tight time restrictions, we could not have people talking over each other.
  6. Have a note-taker.
    It worked well to take notes in real time on a Google doc, which all participants on the call could see. It demonstrated that we were taking account of their points and allowed me to summarise discussions easily.
  7. Individually invite people to speak on every issue
    As free-flowing discussion is much more challenging on a video call, I invited each participant to respond to a question individually (making it clear that if they had no thoughts on that matter or wanted a bit more time to think that was also completely fine), before opening up for wider discussion. People commented that they felt that they'd had more chance to speak in the meeting than they normally would, and that being invited to do so made a big difference in allowing this to happen.
  8. Mention timings frequently.
    As moderator I found that it was useful to give people an indication of how long we had to answer each question. This meant that they adjusted how long they were speaking for accordingly, and we miraculously didn't end up going over time!
  9. Prepare people with a document to refer to.
    We sent around an activity pack that guided our discussion and made people familiar with the topic and the questions we would be asking before the call. 90% of people on the calls said that this activity pack was helpful.
  10. Hold a pre-meeting practice call and acknowledge video-calling weirdness!
    We held a practice call, which under half of the group attended but all those who did said it was extremely helpful. In general, it's good to reiterate at all times that we are all on a journey with video-calling and that it's new and weird for us all. We're learning too, we let people know that we're expecting awkward silences at points etc.
  11. Give people options. Some people phoned into the meeting, and others video called depending on how comfortable they were. We also gave the Zoom private chat as one option for people to contact us privately, but also an email address. Let people know that they can turn their camera off when they want, and that they can skip a question if they want to.
  12. Mute everyone.
    This might not sound great as a final tip but it's important to reduce background noise and feedback. It means that the call hosts mute everyone and invites each participant to unmute themselves when they're invited to or would like to speak. It really helps with ensuring that everyone is given an equal chance to speak.

How - methods

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