Ideas for Bringing Online Participation into Offline Events

DSC02372Earlier this week my friend Doris Reeves-Lipscomb invited me into a conversation with Suzanne Daigle to explore options for including online/distributed participation in the upcoming Open Space on Open Space (OSONOS) in St. Petersburg Florida May 16-19. Having been to an OSONOS, I’d love to go, but the arrival of granddaughter #2 sometime soon says “STAY HOME!” (And if you don’t know about Open Space, check here –> it is wonderful!)

Doris took terrific notes during the call and I’ve augmented them with many links and some examples. I thought it might be nice to share them because we often have questions about the online/offline interconnections for face to face events and graciously, Doris and Suzanne agreed.  I should spend more time editing and amplifying, but if I waited to “find time” for that, I’d never get it up ! I’ve also blogged about this a lot here on the blog, and on my wiki, so a little searching may yield value! But if I don’t post this now… That also means, there are tons of gaps and opportunities for you to add your knowledge in the comments! PLEASE!

Recommendations from Skype Call—Nancy White, Suzanne Daigle, Doris Reeves-Lipscomb – April 30, 2013

Before Conference


  • Consider WHY you want to connect online and offline.
    • To harvest and share out what is going on (social reporting and more on social reporting. Don’t miss David Wilcox’s blog as well.)?
    • To facilitate virtual participation in parts or all of the OSNOS? To bring in a particular voice/voices into a particular OS session or plenary?
    • To tap outwards to the network when questions arise at the F2F? Or something else? Having a sense of purpose helps inform process and technology stewardship. just weave the network a bit? Help others see and discover it?
  • Start where there is energy: Create opportunities for remote/ virtual engagement with the handful of OS practitioners who are ready for it. Identify both people who will be at the event and those online who would like to connect from afar during the event.
  • Understand there may be resistance. Face to face gatherings are precious and some find the effort to include those “not in the room” detracts from their experience — or they have that perception or past experience. Go gently.


  • Verify availability and process for online access/bandwidth. (Yeah, this never goes as planned or promised! Having people with mobile web access is a great fallback!)
  • Create a hashtag for WOS and share widely. Create posters for it and place around event (and especially near any instructions on how to log on to the wifi)
  • Use Open Space email list to find out who already uses the online and build on the technologies they already use. Affirm preferred communication tools for use at WOS
    • What would they like to do?  What might they commit to doing?
    • Then get out of their way. Don’t put yourself too much in a hub role or you won’t have time or attention for anything else. Use the network!
  • Technology Stewardship: Identify, practice with and debug virtual tools that you have relied on before—Crowdvine, WordPress, etc. — or plan to add to your technology configuration.
  • Explore examples of good online events. What relates to good offline events? There IS a lot in common!
  •  For social reporting, consider a small team comprised of millenials/digitally competent OS practitioners and prepare a social reporting plan. (My social reporting bookmarks. A few social reports.)
  • For virtual real time interaction, identify time zone issues (I like to make a little map with people online in their time zone. It is easy to forget otherwise.)

During Conference

  • Be clear: Announce at beginning how people can opt-in/opt-out of the use/uploading online of their  pictures/words via Twitter, Facebook, Crowdvine, etc. and showing opt-out preference with dot on badge; review any other decisions made to work virtually—who, when, how, where
  • Affirm hashtag for all outgoing tweets, communications, blog posts, etc. (post those posters!)
  • Social Reporting Stuff:
    • Tweet/FB images and short narratives of what is going on.
    • Connect particular practitioners who have an interest in each others’ practice
    • Do 1-2 minute interviews and post online, then tweet url (examples from 2 conference where I was social reporting : and, both of whom are OS community members!)
    • Point to blog posts or wiki pages where session reports are posted
    • Towards the end, gather super short reflections (sometimes it is fun to have people write their key insight, etc on a sheet of paper in broad marker, hold it up and then you film them saying out loud. Then you edit together. Here are some unedited examples: and
  • For virtual participation, identify one or more OS sessions and offer them at the market place with the explicit offer to include virtual participants. (Be prepared for no one or too many to show up!). Consider debriefing these experiences to build knowledge and process for future events. (Here is a story of one I did at a conference – not Open Space tho!)
    • Open an OS session using  Google Hangouts or Skype with WOSonOS circle or Skype contact list, etc.  if you wish to use these tools or encourage others to use them.
    • Link reports and other harvests out via social networks, ie. use sociable plugin on WordPress for simultaneous messaging out to Twitter, Facebook, etc.
    •  (If you have decided to do this) use the OS format/Marketplace first round for setting up virtual participation leaders/practice
    • Bring others in by exporting key bits of conference to them through one minute mobile interviews or other kinds of social reporting; have interactive discussion online forum ready for conversations to happen
    • Use Storify to curate WOSonOS tweets
  •  Consider asking for and harvesting post event reflections. (Example here of one of my reflections. And another.)


  • Appreciate that both Millennial and new-bees can be fresh eyes in capturing important elements at the conference with onsite/offsite participants. They don’t have to be Open Space experts!Think of the relationship to Open Space bumblebee and butterfly kinds of functions.
  • Don’t assume non-Millenials aren’t’ comfortable with and don’t use social media tools. Some of us boomers are quite adept.
  • Reflect/debrief (but don’t over do it) and share what you learn back out to the wider community.
  • Go with the flow. Plan and be prepared to abandon the plan. Stay present and enjoy!

8 thoughts on “Ideas for Bringing Online Participation into Offline Events”

  1. Not completely related to online/offline but a nice reminder that we used Open Space Forums long ago at Maricopa, we at least republished the notes online

    and also used the World Cafe a few years for moving 150 people through multiple discussions

  2. Re virtual World Cafes, a lot has happened since that 2008 post, Nancy! Amy Lenzo of the World Cafe Community Foundation began hosting them via MaestroConference in 2009. She and I worked together on behalf of the Coffee Party movement to host a number of engagements in 2010, after which we formed “weDialogue” to offer hosting services for hire.

    Our April 2011 “Community for the 21st Century” World Cafe conversation was attended by over 200 people and featured three conversation starters, including… Nancy White! Here’s a report:

    Amy continues to offer services via weDialogue, while I am following up a fourteen month run hosting “Occupy Cafe” with the launch of a new venture called “The Conversation Collaborative” ( We will offer not only world Cafe but OST, AI, etc. both in purely virtual form and in conjunction with in-person gatherings.

    I’m looking forward to playing at WOSonOS with any and all who are inspired to do so. Doris and I collaborated on an OST experiment back in December when Maestro was beta testing its new Social Webinar features that allowed participants to move themselves around between breakouts (it was glitchy, but promising!). We combined Maestro and Hackpad for this experiment, and you can see the Hackpad output here:

    If you want to play together before, during and after WOSonOS 2013, please email me!

    1. Yes, there HAS been a lot done! I hope you have a great time playing at WOSonOS. I will be hip deep in the arrival of a new grandbaby, with the 3 year old hanging out with me, so life will be predominantly offline the rest of May! I hope you hook up with Doris and co!

  3. Enjoy the grandkids. We’re in the same delightful spot, with a newborn and a two and a half year old that live just ten minutes away. Been taking the older one out into the woods for adventures. What a treat!

    Meanwhile, thanks for all the juicy notes in this post. As it turns out Doris and I will be talking later this morning, as she popped up on Skype while I was posting my earlier comment and I grabbed her.

    Back when we did the experiment in December, Michael Herman was talking about a virtual-only idea that used an asynch platform as a coordinating marketplace directory and allowed participants to initiate sessions at whatever time and “place” (i.e. platform) they chose. So if I want to use Maestro, I can, while someone else can tell people to gather in a Google Hangout and others might try something purely text-based.

    At the time, I was captivated by the potential for Maestro to hold multiple sessions, and I still think that has great value. At the same time, there’s something very elegant about Michael’s vision–it really does capture the spirit of self-organizing and minimalist facilitation that is at the heart of OST.

    Wondering how such ideas might blend with an in-person gathering. You’re clearly right about many people not wanting to be distracted from the “magic” of being together by having to manage virtual “interlopers”. I’ve hosted WC-type conversations where we blended in-person and on the phone/online very successfully, but OST presents a very different level of challenge because there are so many parallel sessions and they vary in size and location.

    One simple option is to invite in-person attendees to host an online buddy if they choose, and use Skype to bring them around to whatever sessions they choose together. I recently participated virtually via I-pad with a group of about fifteen people gathered in person and it worked very well.

    Another fairly simple option to attempt from a tech standpoint might be to invite people to convene virtual conversations in parallel and integrate them via the Daily News and final report.

    The daily news itself could easily be a virtual entity in its primary form, with notes showing up real-time via something like Google Docs of Hackpad. In person participants could view them nline and the reports could also be printed out and posted.

    Finally, it would be relatively easy to bring virtual participants into the opening and closing circles (as opposed to the breakouts) using something like Maestro and piping callers into the PA of a single room (again, this is something I’ve done a number of times). Don’t see that happening for WOSonOS 2013, but it is entirely doable.

    1. I’ve done asynch Open Space online and it was easy and gentle. I felt a bit more stressed with synchronous experiences on purpose made and improvised platforms, mainly because there was a strictness to the shifts that challenged me.

      For the interface w/ F2F — i’ve had more luck with reporting out, than bringing in full participation. It is a full time job! So your buddy idea is terrific. Spread out that connecting job!

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