1. Design the group for online delivery
When deciding to take a group session online, there are things you need to consider and design in order for the group to work successfully/usefully.
Consider what the needs of the group are and how that will impact an online session. Try to understand your audience type. For example, a group session working with young people will have very different requirements to that working with older people. Other needs to consider may include:
- Whether a group requires moderation
- Whether the group requires scheduled times for meeting up
- Whether the people joining the group are new or existing service users
The needs of the group should be considered before deciding to provide online group sessions and should have an impact on how you run them. With You are running online moderated groups for adults with a set time to meet up and work through problems together.
2. Decide on a platform to use
Once you know what your group needs are, you can investigate what software or platform you should use. In doing this you should consider what platforms are safe to use.
Consider the spectrum of accessibility needs. One way to do this is try designing for use cases. For example, With You considered how service users could use the service. They might call on a phone or they could dial in on a laptop. You need to design to enable as many people as possible by considering, at a minimum, what it is everyone needs. Avoid designing specifically for one set of user needs.
There are some platforms that certain cohorts of people are more receptive to. For example, young people who frequently use Facebook Messenger might be more comfortable engaging with an organisation using it. With You use Google Meet. However, just because your service users use a platform it doesn’t always mean it’s appropriate for your service to use. Try to weigh up the benefits and the risks of using a new platform, considering your service users needs.
3. Build confidence in staff running group sessions
Facilitators should feel confident to run a session. However switching to an online group session requires different skills which staff may not always feel confident with. It’s not just about your technical abilities. Remote meetings change the conditions of the interactions. For example, you can't always see people (e.g. over the phone), you can no longer read body language and you may not be able to read people's health as well remotely. This can lead to miscommunications or misinterpretations between the facilitator and service users. The dynamic between the group and facilitator will be different and staff should be prepared to manage this change.
Think about what training staff might need to deliver a service in a new way. With You shared guidance with staff about setting up a Google Meet. All facilitators of problem solving groups need to complete the training and safeguarding modules prior to running any meetings.
The guidance gives lots of detail and includes 10 key steps for staff to follow when preparing and running a group session. Here are some examples of the information shared in the guidance:
- Choose a date and time for your group. Think about how suitable times for an online mutual aid group may differ from in person attendance.
- Remember if you add service users onto the calendar invite they will all see each other’s email addresses.
- You can leave the meeting in your own calendar and copy the details into an email or text for service users. Remember to BCC service users. Include the google meet code and the phone number plus the 9 digit PIN for people not able to join via the internet.
4. Engage with service users
As you change your service delivery offer you need to inform existing service users about these changes, as well as engaging with new potential service users. Consider how you will engage with both new and existing service users. You can let existing service users know about online problem solving groups by email, text or phone depending on what they use. With You found social media channels are a good way to reach both new and existing service users. Most With You services will have their own Facebook and/or Twitter accounts which they can use to inform service users about online group sessions. With You also created templates for posts to share on social media to make sure service users had a consistent experience. As a rule, you should never post the meet code or dial in details for a session directly on social media, as doing so means the meeting is no longer private and secure.
When you contact your service users include the following information:
- The Google meet code and phone dial in details
- Instructions that explain what online mutual aid groups are and how to join
You can see more information like this here, on With You’s website
When engaging with new service users consider what information they need to know upfront (e.g. like acceptable and unacceptable behaviour). When someone who is not currently with their service wants to join, With You let them know that everything they say in the group is confidential but this might change if you have serious concerns about their safety or someone else's.
5. Make sure service users can access the session
If you are delivering a service in a new way (e.g. over a new channel) consider what the learning curve might be for the service users accessing that service. If you’re introducing a new software which your service users might not be familiar with, consider how to make it easier for them to use. With You did this by creating a step by step guide for service users on how to join a Google meeting, on both a laptop or a phone. This guide includes how to set up your software and how to get the best out of each session (e.g. moving to a quiet place to keep meetings private).
Facilitators can also help service users practice joining the session beforehand, and provide support over the phone.
6. Run the sessions
Start by making sure that everyone is comfortable and able to participate. Make time at the start of the session for everyone to get connected. Once people have joined, the session can run in a similar way to in-person groups.
In their guidance for running the groups, With You suggest which of their tools work best online and ways of using the chat, screen share and captions functions to cater for different groups. For example, service users who are not in a private space may want to participate through chat. They explain how to mute and remove participants.
Many thanks to We Are With You for contributing this recipe.
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