Jun 18, 2020
How Some Communities are Adapting their FAC Work to a Virtual World: Getting Creative with Workshops and Meetings
By: Emily Troisi
The onset of COVID-19 triggered a wave of adaptation. Wildfire practitioners across the country adjusted to working, meeting and educating remotely. Knowing that wildfires do not stop because of a pandemic, many practitioners were compelled to keep finding ways to connect their communities and share information. And so began a rush of online meetings, workshops and connecting opportunities! All of this online learning was designed with different objectives, but with a common theme: we are all trying to figure out how to make virtual offerings, interactive, engaging and effective.
As someone who facilitates a lot of meetings and workshops (both virtually and in-person), I think it is important to note that there are different types of online learning and connecting formats. Oftentimes we label all meetings online as “webinars,” but just like in-person opportunities, successful online learning relies on a multitude of formats. Different approaches are appropriate for audiences of different sizes, goals and a information flow.
Andy Goodman (from The Goodman Center) identifies three main types of online learning formats in his work on virtual learning: webinars, web meetings and web-casts. In our FAC Net work, we add in a few sub-types such as virtual cafes or virtual workshops. But regardless of what you call them, most virtual learning and connecting opportunities are often assumed to be easier to plan than in-person opportunities. However, I would argue that some virtual engagement opportunities can be more time-consuming or difficult to plan than their in-person version. And, even when you are “virtual” your facilitation and agenda design skills still come in to play– if you fall victim to the pitfalls of presentations in person (see Andy’s resource linked below on presentations), you will likely make the same errors virtually.
FAC Net members and staff are putting their best ideas forward and figuring out together how to take Firewise USA® workshops online, how to offer virtual defensible space courses and inspire residents to take action around their homes, or how to incorporate public input in to Community Wildfire Protection Plan processes while maintaining physical distancing and more. I’ve collected a few examples from around the Network of how people are connecting. At the end of the blog, we link to a new resource FAC Net staff created from our own experiences and feedback from members. Read on for links, inspiration and resources!
*Author’s note: One positive outcome I have seen from COVID-19 is an increase in sharing and shared learning. Network members have been able to sign up for each other’s courses and offerings or watch their recordings because there are so many more virtual offerings. It’s really neat to be able to experience (vs read about or hear about) how our peers work with their communities and take ideas back home. I have marked a few of those examples with an asterisk below.
Connecting Neighborhoods and Community Members
The Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization (HWMO) (in partnership with the Pacific Fire Exchange) hosted an interactive webinar titled, “Dealing with your backyard during COVID-19 and wildfire season” that was designed to “highlight what regular residents and their families are doing in their yards during COVID-19 to create wildfire-safe and resilient landscapes.” The audience included community members across the state, which included neighborhood leaders, Firewise USA® leaders and anyone else who was interested. They had 53 attendees and recorded the presentation so others could view it later. There was even a raffle for residents who completed work on their property after the webinar, offering a clear incentive to make the online learning actionable.
What we loved:
- Knowing that many people have children at home during the day right now, HWMO made this presentation family-oriented and included ideas for kid-compatible mitigation activities. They even included their own staff members’ families by showing videos of kids giving tips on how to wear safety clothes for work around the house.
- The webinar was more than just slides! HWMO embedded videos the staff members made around their homes to switch up the format and keep it engaging.
Structure and content:
- It was a mix of presentations. A speaker from the local University Extension provided basic fire science while another speaker highlighted fire-resistant vegetation. HWMO staff member Carson Magoon shared information on why homes ignite.
- The webinar also had individual prompts to help folks leave with a simple plan that was time bound, simple, and possible in the near-future.
- The webinar ended with a call-to-action: they asked people to use #wildfirereadyHI and post on social media with innovative/creative mitigation they’re doing around their homes.
- The whole webinar was fun and easy to digest.
Watch HWMO’s webinar here.
*Inspired by HWMO’s webinar, our friends in Minnesota (Todd Armbruster, Lake and Cook County Firewise Coordinator and Gloria Erickson, Dovetail Partners – St. Louis County Firewise Coordinator) helped lead a webinar titled “Tips for Backyard Wildfire Resiliency” at the end of May with a similar structure and purpose. Gloria reported that they had 57 attendees during the live webinar and, so far, 98 views on the recording, with over half of the live-webinar attendees self-reporting as land owners in the area.
Over the past month, Project Wildfire in Deschutes County Oregon held three virtual Firewise USA® workshops. This series of workshops focused on connecting current and potential Firewise USA® communities to share ideas and experiences to build a network of support. The first workshop focused on the basic steps for communities to become a recognized Firewise USA® site, and the second expanded the focus to outreach strategies. The last workshop focused on planning community projects. All of the workshops were intended to continue to build the communities’ networks and create mitigation on the ground.
What we loved:
- Mixed format: presentation, small group breakouts and large group discussions to share the learning.
- The webinars built off of one another and included a diverse set of voices and experiences.
Structure and content:
- Workshop 1:
- Participants discussed the process a community follows to become a Firewise USA® recognized site, including participation in a risk assessment, forming an action plan and maintaining annual recognition. Participants heard perspectives from statewide and local cooperators. After breakout sessions, group discussions highlighted individual learning and the breakout groups’ conversation content.
- The majority of this workshop was presentation-style with speakers and slides. The workshop also included a great review of the agenda, particularly what would and would not be covered to set the audience’s expectations.
- Workshop 2:
- Breakout groups were a main feature of the event. The goal was to have the communities help each other through the fire adaptation process by sharing successes and challenges they’ve had with others. Break out groups were not recorded, however there was a report-out afterwards so everyone could benefit from other rooms’ discussions.
- Hosts discussed outreach strategies used within communities to educate residents on fire risk and had two communities as guest speakers to discuss how, and what tools, they use to reach their communities.
- Project Wildfire included resources and follow-up at the end.
- Workshop 3:
- Project Wildfire built on their two previous workshops and jumped into the planning phase of the process. They discussed the planning of community projects and how to get them on the ground.
- Interactive discussions were a centerpiece of this workshop. Participants were able learn from peers and experts as they discussed planning, implementing and reporting on project successes.
- Topics included planning for: annual Firewise USA® events, neighborhood curbside chipping projects, fuels reduction projects (including ideas for grant projects) and more.
Project Wildfire collected all workshop recording and associated materials that were discussed and placed them on their website so communities can review the information and refer back to the numerous resources.
*Inspired by Project Wildfire’s first webinar on Firewise USA® basics, HWMO let us know that they were going to lead a similar effort with their local Firewise USA® neighborhoods this month!
Connecting with Businesses
Originally designed to be an in-person workshop to serve the business community of Ely, MN, with an emphasis on wildfire risk, Dovetail Partners, Inc knew that the content was still relevant and important due to the impacts of COVID-19 and moved forward by adjusting their workshop and changing to an all-virtual event. While originally designed to be highly interactive, Dovetail shifted the content to a webinar format to make it technically easier to facilitate and manage a large group of attendees. Dovetail then focused their bandwidth and attention on their presenters.
What we loved:
- This webinar was geared toward their community’s specific context and needs. Gloria, one of the workshop hosts, recommends partnering with Small Businesses Administration representation, your chamber of commerce and other economic development groups to help understand your audience’s needs, specifically when planning a webinar like this.
- While the content was technical, it was presented in an easy and approachable way with lots of great resources.
Structure and content:
- The hosts covered the risk factors in their area, risk to small businesses and why this issue is important. They included feature presentations about what their business community can do to help take preparedness action and protect themselves. A major goal of the webinar was for attendees to leave being able to complete Business Continuity Plans.
- Over half of the 40 attendees were business owners, which Gloria notes is significant attendance in her small community! Dovetail chose to make the webinar available for later viewing, so those who could not join in person could watch later.
Watch Dovetail’s Business Resiliency for Disasters workshop here.
Creating Vibrant, Purposeful Virtual Events
FAC Net staff routinely plan webinars and interactive online learning opportunities as a result of our wide geographic reach. However, we also recognize the value of in-person connections and facilitate an annual workshop for FAC Net members. This year, like many others, we were challenged to shift what had been an in-person workshop to an online format. Through that process, we learned some valuable lessons! We have created “Tips for Hosting a Vibrant Virtual Workshop” to share some of our best insights from hosting that fifty-person virtual workshop.
Additional Resources and Organizations that Network Staff Love and Utilize:
The Converge Network:
- “How to Create Meaningful Online Gatherings” (article)
- “The Best Tools for Remote Collaboration” (article)
The Goodman Center:
Interaction Institute for Social Change:
Do you have other facilitation resources that you love? Drop us a comment below and let us know!
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