How do you get people together when they can’t be in the same room?

Human connection is core to social innovation. But how do you work together when you’re apart?
How do you build a deep understanding of people’s context and preferences, when you can meet them face to face?

3 April 2020

By Chris Vanstone, Chief Innovation Officer, TACSI

While the Covid-19 situation is unprecedented, social innovation at a distance isn’t.

In the midst of the pandemic, we HAVE to work at a distance while in the past, we’ve chosen to (mainly because it was cheaper, faster, saved a few tonnes of carbon, or was more inclusive). At times, working at a distance has even enabled us to connect better; for example with a survivor of domestic violence who wanted to stay anonymous, or a young person who was out and about and otherwise hard to pin down.

Illustration of people talking

But enforced social distancing has forced us to innovate too. We’ve put things online we never would have otherwise.

Some of my favourite innovations so far include:

  • Building fun activities to help people at a ‘retreat’ get comfortable with video conferencing

  • Working on collaborative whiteboards before asking participants to do that as part of the workshop itself.

  • The ‘unworkshoping’ of a workshop that was going to bring together 30 people with lived experience of mental ill health. Instead the team had ‘30 great conversations’ all done in a day, over the phone.

  • Building a virtual and interactive ‘room’ of information to support a shared data analysis workshop, with a government education department.

We’ve also been reusing some other old favourites like the ‘Connection Section’, a core part of what keeps our weekly 30 person team meeting’ human. ‘Connection Sections’ involves small breakout groups discussing a question that relates to them as people. For example, “If you were a superhero who would you be?”.

In recent weeks, they’ve taken a tone that’s equal parts sombre and hilarious: “If you could only travel to one more place in your life, where would you go?” or “What three things would you need in your larder to get you through 14 days of self-isolation.”

Illustration of a cloud

We’ve collected all these strategies (and more) in a pack to support our partners and clients to do their best work during the pandemic. The first two sections, ‘Getting in the room’ and ‘Working together’ are going to be relevant to most organisations. The last set, ‘Getting out there’, is more specific to the work of human centred design and innovation.

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