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Scope are a disability equality charity in England and Wales. They provide practical information and emotional support when it's most needed. They campaign to create a fairer society.

This Guide focuses on the preparation and planning Scope do to run successful online groups. It looks at how to get the most out of Zoom's features but you could use any video meeting tool .

Steps to running successful online groups using video meeting software

Running online meetings has lots of benefits. These include:

  • Removing travel time and costs

  • Making it easier for disabled people who find leaving the house challenging to take part

  • Making it easier for people who have childcare needs to attend (shortening childcare time, or some children can self-supervise nearby)

You need to get clear on the meetings goals and what attendees need to take part. For example, if you're running a group to help people learn together then you'll need to consider people's different learning goals and social needs.

Scope began many different online types of support during the coronavirus pandemic. This included bringing Parents Connect, a 6 week support programme, online.

They spoke to parents and carers. They discovered that they needed reassurance and support with dealing with change and behaviour. They also wanted the same sense of connection they looked for in the face-to-face programme.

If you’re already using a video calling system and it works well for you, stick with that. If you aren’t happy with the system you use, think about changing. You’ll need to think about:

  • budget

  • privacy needs

  • safeguarding needs

  • what the people coming to your sessions are familiar and comfortable with

Thinking about a change? NCVO have a guide to the main providers and a table you can download to help you work out how well each one meets your needs. Use their guide to comparing video conferencing software.

Scope considered Skype, Google Hangouts and Zoom. They chose Zoom. They liked it because it had these features that they needed:

  • You can record sessions and share them with the group.

  • You can see people's faces, if they’re happy with that

  • Participants can type in the meeting's chatbox if they don’t wish to or are not able to speak

  • Hosts can control several features, including muting 

  • Participants can control several features, and video functions

  • You can set a password for private meetings

  • Zoom offer a 50% discount to non-profits.

Consider how many people will be facilitating your groups. Find out whether they know the software already or whether they need support.

You can provide:

  • Links to videos or written guides from the software provider

  • Videos or written guides from your own team members, focusing on the things most useful to running groups the way you will need to.

Don’t forget that facilitators need to be able to use lots of different functions smoothly. Make sure you’ve covered all the safeguarding functions, such as being able to mute people or remove them from a meeting. They’ll also need to be ready to support people using the software on different devices with different interfaces.

Scope decided to have 2 facilitators in every session. One to facilitate the flow of the meeting and another to handle technical issues and support individual needs. They trained both staff and volunteers. Then they let them run practice sessions for each other so they got used to how the platform works on different devices.

Are you offering your session to a group of people your organisation already knows? Or do you want to publicise it more widely?

How much information should you provide in advance of the sessions? What will the people in your group find useful?

Scope did 4 things to support the Parents Connect group:

  • They created a sign up process for sessions. This meant they could advertise the sessions on social media so other charities could share it with parents. They included the link to sign up process on social media, not the link to the actual sessions.

  • At sign up, they asked people how they wanted to get information about the session. Some people were happy to be emailed, others wanted messages on WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.

  • They realised that it was best to keep the session information very simple and clear. Just the link and password (not the other information the calling software sometimes provides). When they tried to add other information people got confused.

  • They wanted to ensure the privacy of sessions so they set a password.

When planning you’ll need to decide:

  • How long should the session be? Don’t assume that it’s the same length as the face to face sessions - people find online sessions more tiring.

  • What activities will we do? Will we need any presentations or hand-outs (email these to people before the session).

  • How formal should the session be?

  • Will the session take place all in one room or use breakout rooms?

  • Will we set ground rules for participation or co-create them with the group?

  • Do we have at least 2 team members available to run the session?

When running sessions, try to stay flexible. Respond to the needs of the group and use all the tools the platform offers you to help you.

Scope run their Parents Connect sessions in two parts. 

First they hold the formal session. 

Afterwards the facilitators stay on the call in case anyone has any questions they didn’t want to bring to the group.

The formal sessions include presentations and activities. They discovered that emailing out handouts during a session is distracting. They send things in a follow up message after the meetings instead.

They have several session ground-rules:

  1. The host always welcomes people first. They let people know that it’s OK to turn off their camera or microphone, or not put their names on screen. They work hard to make people feel comfortable.
  2. They encourage people to be on mute and to use the 'raise hand' tool or the chatbox to ask questions.
  3. They make a point to ask people to tell them in the chat if they are experiencing any internet connectivity problems. One team member monitors the chat so they can help with issues quickly.

Further information

Contact Alex Hazell at [email protected]
Or Louise Gillard at [email protected]

See some of our other guides focused on running online groups: