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Meetings and gatherings of all sizes and sorts have been cancelled, travel plans upended, and holidays postponed. The Transparency and Accountability Initiative (TAI) is no exception, as we are all working remotely for the foreseeable future and have had to cancel nearly all of the travel we had planned this year. Since we know we are not the only ones, we decided to create this resource sheet to help you stay connected with your team and others during this pandemic. Our donor members want to make sure grantees get the support they need to adjust to remote working, so don’t hesitate to reach out with asks/suggestions of what would be helpful.

 

What platform to use?

Virtual meeting software has come a long way since the first days of Skype. There are different platforms fit for different purposes. With so many options out there, how do you choose the software that will serve your organization’s needs? Consider these questions to help you pick the best value for money option for your team.  

  • How many people do you expect to participate in the virtual event?
  • How long will your calls/events be?
  • Will any of you be making presentations that require slide sharing?
  • How good is everyone’s internet connection?
  • What’s your web conferencing budget?

Here are some top-ranking applications available on the market. They work with organizations of any size, offer features like screen sharing and video recording, and boast a solution for low bandwidth. 

  • ZoomZoom Webinar and Zoom Meeting Rooms provide good audio and video transmission, including with low bandwidth. Plans start at US$12.49/month.
  • BlueJeans – Can switch to low bandwidth mode through disabling video feeds. Plans start at US$9.99/month.
  • GoToMeeting – With additional audio enhancements, can be used with very low bandwidth. Plans start at US$12/month.

If you are interested to see a comparison of what others have been using and how satisfied they have been with their experience, check out this Web Conferencing Software TrustMap. You can sort the results based on the size of the company/expected number of call participants. Find more applications, reviews and overall guidance on TrustRadius, a review site for business technology.

For big events that can host up to 100,000 people, check out Hopin, and for conferences, forums, and other events with fewer participants, visit Run The World. See what CNBC has to say about these platforms.

If cost is a concern, ask your funders about repurposing travel/event budgets for virtual software, but you also don’t have to fret if you are not keen on paid services – there are free applications that you may find useful. They come with some limitations though, like no pre-scheduling feature, poorer audio/video quality or only a limited number of people who can join the call. Check out these platforms. 

Of course, you can also use the following apps:

  • Skype – While it’s great for one-on-one interaction or even multi-country/participant audio meetings, it is less useful for video conferencing where multiple participants might need to speak, share slides or turn on their cameras.
  • GoogleHangouts – With GoogleHangouts, you will be able to do text and video chatting as well as share your screen with others. Users must have a Google account and add each other to meet online. The downside of the platform is that participants can’t do group video chats with more than 10 people at a time.
  • Whatsapp – Users need to register with their phone numbers. The app supports audio/video calling with only a few people at a time.

To learn more about free web conference software or paid applications with some available free call options, visit GetVoIP and VoIPReview, the free comparison resource sites.

If you’re concerned about the cost of some of these tools (or just operating during the pandemic) and need assistance paying for them, don’t be afraid to reach out to your program officer. To help you have these conversations and others, TAI and their helpful member foundation staff came together to produce this guide on conversations to have with your funders.

 

How to Run Effective Virtual Meetings

If you’ve never had to work from home – let alone run meetings from home – it might take some getting used to. Thankfully, there is a host of resources available to help you.

Talking to colleagues. Many platforms offer a standing space you can use for calls with one individual or a few, such as a personal Zoom room. If you want some more tips on how to use Zoom, check out their new guide. Tech news site, Ars Technica, also has some tips for those of you just starting, as they’ve been doing it for 22 years.

Hosting conference calls. There are ways to make these more fun and efficient. Ruth Levine, formerly Director of Hewlett Foundation’s Global Population and Development program, wrote this excellent ‘how to guide’ on hosting and participating in conference calls. Some of these tips are things you’re already doing like sending all of the necessary login information well ahead of time (you’re doing this, right?) but don’t be afraid to experiment, for example planning to end a call early before participants inevitably start to drop off.

Virtual workshops/presentations. The OpenGovHub’s (TAI’s current home) Guide to Great Events, includes some great information, like how to present your visuals effectively, deciding what type of event to hold (and descriptions of many event types), how to have effective panels, and interactive exercises. Some of these can translate to the online environment pretty seamlessly. The team at Learning Revolution also have a guide on hosting webinars, with tips on how to promote your webinar, prepare your presenters, and amazing advice on doing a ‘dry run’ before the real thing.

Virtual conferences. What about running a conference for hundreds online? Sounds daunting but there are ways to do it and we will all be finding better ways to do it. Specially designed platforms, such as Hopin offer their own tips for making the most of their software, but there is no replacement for hearing directly from those who have tried it (some using a combination of platforms to get full functionality). For a sense of what’s involved, check out Tax Justice Network’s handy reflection on the benefits and challenges of hosting their annual conference entirely virtually last year.

Keep track of what works and share. Lastly, keeping track of what works well online might be a good idea. Even as this crisis ebbs, some interactions online might prove to be sufficiently effective and such a saving on travel, time and carbon that they become more the norm.

If you’ve got some tips on what has and hasn’t worked for your organization, we want to hear from you! Feel free to reach out to TAI via email or on Twitter @TAInitiative.

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