What We Learned From Hosting an Inaugural Event During COVID-19: Lessons From MOMENTUM's Virtual Share Fair

Nov 16, 2021 by Francesca Alvarez, Sarah Trautwein, Maia Johnstone, and Reshma Naik Comments (0)
COMMUNITY CONTRIBUTION

Looking to promote meaningful knowledge exchange and collaboration among a diverse set of participants in a virtual environment? Read our reflections from MOMENTUM's first-ever Share Fair during COVID-19.

 

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we work. Project staff and stakeholders from across the globe can now convene virtually “in the same room”. But this new reality requires a unique way of planning and implementing to ensure gatherings remain valuable and achieve their goals.

In July 2021, the USAID-funded MOMENTUM project—a suite of six awards designed to improve maternal, newborn, and child health, voluntary family planning, and reproductive health (MNCH/FP/RH) services globally—held its first-ever virtual Share Fair.

The mini-conference, hosted via the Hopin platform, ran for two hours each morning from Monday to Wednesday over two weeks. The event featured 44, 25-minute sessions, where more than 300 participants from 36 countries and nearly 30 organizations shared data, insights, tools, and resources. The Share Fair also helped identify opportunities for coordination and collaboration and fostered a sense of connectedness among colleagues.

The following lessons learned from the event may be useful to other networks, projects, or groups aiming to promote meaningful knowledge exchange and collaboration among a diverse set of participants in a virtual environment:

1.    Identify your most important criteria for choosing a platform: We chose Hopin for its exceptionally low cost, conference-like interface, and features like one-on-one networking and virtual expo booths for showcasing resources. Based on our experience, when planning our next Share Fair, we will consider options that address other emergent priorities, such as enabling content translation, live interpretation, pre-session setup, and dynamic, verbal discussion among participants. 

2.   Be realistic about how much time people can commit: While we selected an event format intended to limit interference with workday commitments, we found that the structure was still too time intensive for our audience, and attendance notable waned over time. Next time, we might consider holding more but shorter events throughout the year or condensing the content to fit into one week. For the sessions, some liked that the concise 25-minute length felt light and allowed them to learn about multiple topics in a short time. The downside is it didn't allow much time for substantive discussion or Q&A.  

3.    Find creative ways to signify the event’s importance: We created visually compelling event branding for a range of promotional and resource materials, including our event flyer, agenda, and teaser video. The branding gave the event an exciting, polished feel and distinguished it from a generic meeting. We also recruited colleagues across the MOMENTUM awards and USAID, including senior leadership, to promote the event via email and other channels using pre-drafted messaging. Together, these approaches helped raise the event’s profile and signaled to staff:This is important, you should attend.” That said, to optimize attendance at our next Share Fair, we will enhance promotion through early and more direct engagement, especially with country-based staff.