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Overview

With You provide free and confidential support with alcohol, drugs or mental health. As part of their services, they run Problem Solving Groups (also known as mutual aid partnership groups). These groups are a place for people to come together and help provide practical support for day to day issues. They will suggest simple tools and techniques to help everyone in the group and are designed to be run by volunteers in a peer led environment. All groups are run by With You staff members or experienced volunteers or peer mentors.

This recipe explains how With You are running their problem solving group sessions online using Google Meet, based on what they have learned from pivoting their services in response to COVID-19.

An illustration showing a group session happening on a phone

Recipe status

This recipe has been in use since March 2020.

We are not sharing this recipe as the perfect solution to a problem, but we believe We Are With You’s learnings could be very useful to other organisations.

Users and needs served

  • As a service user, I want to continue supporting and being supported by my problem solving group, even though I can’t travel to meet them.
  • As a staff member, I need to feel confident facilitating sessions remotely to continue supporting service users despite COVID-19 restrictions.

Software and tools used

Google Meet

Google Meet is a video communication service developed by Google. We are With You has been using this to host the sessions for their mutual aid partnership group sessions.

Cost

From free.

Google Meet is part of G Suite, which starts from £4.09 per month. There is also a free version which is available for anyone to use with a personal Google account.

Considerations

With You has a range of service users who access their service in different ways. Google Meet allows people to call in as well as join over a video call. This was useful for With You as not all of their service users want / are able to dial in over video.

Google Meet is integrated with other G Suite apps including email, calendar and documents. Because they already used G Suite, With You were familiar with Google Meet and were able to shift to using it for group sessions.

Recipe steps

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.

Guidance

Keep meetings the same length and have a maximum time limit (e.g. 2 hours per session). With You have found that meetings need to be longer to allow for any technical issues service users might face at the beginning of each session.

The volume of information you get through online interactions is different. Try to keep sessions on a small scale if you want everyone to engage and share. With You’s sessions vary, but on average they have between 4 and 10 people in each session.

It’s recommended that you keep the first online session for onboarding everyone. With You run their first session with a focus on getting everyone signed in and holding basic check ins.

For group sessions, try to keep the Google Meet link the same by setting a recurring meeting. This helps remove confusion for people who might miss a new link for each session. You can do this by clicking the ‘does not repeat’ drop down menu under the date and time when you set it up. There are a few options to choose from including weekly on the same day.

Keeping things consistent helps remove barriers for people accessing support. However, if you do keep the link the same, ensure that you or the participants do not publish the link anywhere online (e.g. on Facebook, Twitter etc). If the link is publicly shared, anyone is then free to join the call and you will no longer be able to keep sessions private and secure.

A gentle reminder can help maintain service users attendance at online mutual aid groups. Sending out texts or emails around 24 hours before the groups can help jog people’s memory. Posting on social media can also help attract new service users who may make a last minute decision to join based on how they feel that day.

Risks

In some cases, with the new remote delivery, staff might be hesitant to let new members join the group who are not currently using your services. WithYou undertake an assessment to bring people into their service which can take time. In the case of people new to service they are providing guidance to services around safeguarding measures they should have in place to allow new service users to access groups without having to be known to services.

Access to hardware such as phones or the internet is always a risk. Consider how you can make the service as accessible as possible for as many service users as possible.

There is a change in dynamic between service users and a facilitator when a session is being conducted online instead of in person. Consider how you tackle this and what support is given to both service users and staff. For example, ensuring staff know how to remove/mute a participant, setting rules of engagement as a group and making sure staff still engage in incident reporting.

Points of contact

For further information about this recipe, you can contact:

Ros Hewitt
Product Lead

Thanks

Many thanks to We Are With You for contributing this recipe.

Recipe published on June 11th, 2020. Last updated June 11th, 2020