How to keep the human connection online

We hear from Eilidh Turnbull of the British Institute for Human Rights about how to keep the human connection when working online.

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At BIHR we are always aiming for the “the lightbulb moments”, when a person we are working with, whether it be a member of a community group, a social worker or a person accessing services, makes that connection between human rights and their lives or the work they do every day.

Before the pandemic, we would often travel all over the UK to deliver our human rights sessions. As a facilitator, and as a participant, there is so much to be gained from all being in a room together. You can share experience and ideas easily, you can chat to the person sitting next to you and you can ask a quick question whilst grabbing a coffee.

Since the lockdown last March, like so many others, we have had to move all of our work online. This has made us question and examine how we can continue to have those “lightbulb moments” when we are no longer in the same room as the people we work with. How can we make sure that we maintain our “human touch” when we are interacting through a screen, especially when we are working with very serious subject matter such as domestic abuse or supporting frontline staff to use human rights during a global pandemic?

Luckily at BIHR, we had a bit of a head start with tech through our Tech vs. Abuse project (where we had received support from CAST). Those of us who had been involved with the project already knew how to work with platforms like Zoom and could pass that knowledge on to our colleagues. (It seems very strange that there was once a time when many of us had never heard of Zoom!) We have also done an incredible amount of learning over the past year on how we can maintain the “human touch” in each one of these sessions. Here are some of our top tips.

Where you can, translate what works face to face to online

Give time and space to the everyday “human” parts, you would usually have if you were facilitating a session in person. We always make time for every person to introduce themselves at the start (if they want to). This makes people feel much more comfortable to ask questions or share their views. Creating a safe and friendly environment where people feel supported to interact and share views and experiences is really important to us. At the start of all our sessions we talk about self-care, taking into account and acknowledging that this is an incredibly difficult time for so many people. We have also updated our safeguarding policy, after attending a workshop arranged by CAST, to make sure that our online sessions are a safe space for all.

We include tea breaks into longer sessions as sitting in front of a screen can be very tiring! We use breakout rooms so that those attending our sessions get a chance to work through using a human rights approach with their colleagues or people in similar situations to them, sharing their own expertise and knowledge, as they would do in “real life”. We’ve also found some great ideas using this framework for Human Connection.

Previously, during our in-person sessions people would often come up to us after a session was complete to ask a question or to clarify something. Perhaps because they didn’t feel comfortable asking the question in front of others or because they didn’t find the right time. Online sessions so often finish immediately when the speakers finish speaking. I try to always stick around as people are leaving so that they have the chance to ask a quick question when leaving the session.

At BIHR we always aim to make all our resources and sessions as accessible as possible using as clear language as possible and keeping away from jargon. This has been even more important in the past few months now that we are interacting via a screen.

Be flexible, find the humour

We know that sometimes people on our sessions may be interrupted by a small child or their upstairs neighbour’s enthusiastic DIY, as occasionally it happens to us too!

We try to always ensure that all tech used is as accessible as possible and that everyone can interact, if they choose to. Sometimes people may want to unmute themselves and speak, others feel more comfortable typing into a chat bar.

Experiment with tech to increase interactivity

Our increasing digital confidence means we explore other tools that can be integrated into online sessions. We’ve found Slido a really useful tool to help make our sessions more interactive. This means that we can do live polls during our sessions, and unlike Zoom, you can vote instantly, which integrates with PowerPoint- it brings a real sense of collective engagement.

In our face-to-face sessions we would usually ask a lot of exploratory questions that allow people to reflect on where their thinking is and to share this anonymously. This can be harder online, and it can feel quite exposing just using a chat bar. So we now use Slido to ask questions like “What do you think of when you hear the term human rights?” or “What one thing will you take away from this session to your everyday life/work?”. Everyone attending our sessions can type in an answer and it creates a word cloud on the screen. It’s the digital equivalent of writing ideas down on a post-it, but can be far more powerful, as shared words appear larger, and it is far easier for people to see everything that is being shared.

We also use it for short quizzes, especially after breaks, to get everyone back on the same page and to allow us to gauge which areas people have grasped well so far and which areas we might want to come back to. Slido quizzes also have a leader board which is displayed at the end of the quiz, adding a bit of healthy competition!

What we’ve gained from going digital

Moving our sessions online has mean that our small team has far more reach than we could have previously. In any one week I might have sessions in Dorset, Cardiff and Glasgow. Before we would simply not have been able to travel to all those sessions in one week. Over the past 10 months we have delivered well over 100 human rights sessions across the UK, reaching over 2000 people.

Moving online has also enabled us to continue with our projects through lockdown. For example, our initial plan for designing, developing and testing our new human rights tool for women survivors of domestic abuse was to hold in person sessions with women survivors. However, come March that was no longer possible. Moving these sessions online meant that we could continue to involve these women, who the tool was aimed at, through every stage of the process.

The past year has been a massive learning experience for us all. It has also been a very difficult year for so many personally and professionally. At BIHR we have been trying to take that into account in all the work that we do. Through acknowledging this, making all our online work as accessible as possible and maintaining our “human touch” as much as possible we have found that we can still have our “lightbulb moments”. Even when we are all sitting in different rooms in different homes throughout the country.

 


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