While it’s always a challenge to make online training and workshops as effective as in-person sessions, these challenges are particularly acute when dealing with subjects as deeply personal and provocative as gender, racial bias, and/or violence and sexual harassment (as well as when working with underserved and under-resourced participants). And as providers have necessarily switched from in-person to remote sessions during the pandemic, the challenges have become even clearer.

Best practices have begun to emerge. For one thing, we’ve learned that centering participants throughout the design process—from choosing a delivery platform to structuring content—can make it possible to build conducive virtual spaces for tackling sensitive issues, rather than pale imitations of in-person engagements. And there are crucial nuances to getting it right. Running a virtual session of any kind requires setting clear objectives for the session, assigning a facilitator beforehand, getting everyone on video where possible, providing opportunities for participation every 2-3 minutes, and meeting in smaller groups or breakout rooms. Facilitators should be aware of time management, keep sessions to under 90 minutes, offer health breaks, and always test the technology beforehand.

However, we must accept that there is no “copy and paste” formula for taking in-person trainings online. Achieving impact requires creative approaches. Specifically, it requires a deeper understanding of participants’ needs and more thoughtful work to make sure the content and format of the training truly engages their attention, speaks to their concerns, and is responsive and flexible.

We spoke with program designers, trainers, and evaluators at leading organizations that work on sensitive topics—including those from Girl Effect, InclusionVentures, and YLabs—to learn how they’ve adapted their offerings for remote delivery and what their recommendations are for adjusting to the reality of COVID-19. Drawing on best practices and insights from interviews with four leading organizations, we’ve broken virtual program design for sensitive topics into five essential steps that put participants at the center and allow the session to achieve its transformative potential:

  1. Ensure your mode of delivery is accessible and inclusive,
  2. Build trust and community with the group,
  3. Understand the ethics of remote facilitation and disclosure,
  4. Use participant-driven content design, and
  5. Develop feedback loops for evaluation and iteration.

Technology has allowed us to remain connected while in lockdown, share knowledge in new and creative ways, and reach audiences we’ve never before accessed while also reducing travel and implementation costs. But with the large-scale adoption of remote delivery in the pandemic, we can and must capitalize on these opportunities to unlock the full transformative potential of remote learning on topics of power and violence, building on their potential, unique advantages rather than replicating the limitations of in-person engagement. By deploying intentional design and centering participants from end-to-end, remote training programs and workshops can become powerful new tools for fostering understanding on the most difficult issues of today and forging a path for long-term impact and positive change.

Read the full article about online trainings by Alexa Hassink and Joe Dougherty at Stanford Social Innovation Review.