Recently a participant at the start of my Practical Appreciative Inquiry course asked me for tips on running Appreciative Inquiry events virtually. This was my reply:
To run a small virtual Appreciative Inquiry event you need two things: breakout rooms, and a decent virtual whiteboard.
Virtual breakout rooms
The breakout rooms are for:
- Appreciative interviews in pairs during the Discovery stage.
Ideally you would have the platform assign people randomly to work with each other – otherwise, you could pre-assign people so they are interviewing someone they don’t work closely with, ideally from different roles or departments, and at different levels.
- Group work, analogous to having 6 people round a table in a face-to-face event. These would be for:
– pairs to look at what themes came out of their appreciative interviews
– co-creating a vision of the future in the Dream stage, using a virtual whiteboard
– the same group, or different groups organised by project team or department, working on generating ideas in the Design stage and possibly planning in the Delivery stage.
The virtual whiteboard is for groups (in breakout rooms) or teams to co-create a metaphorical or artistic vision of the desired future in the Dream stage.
If there are templates available (e.g. for ‘fishbone diagrams’ and ‘swim lane diagrams’), so much the better.
I use Zoom for preference for group events, because it’s pretty user-friendly, and because since the pandemic, most people have become familiar with it, at least on a basic level.
Virtual Whiteboards For Appreciative Inquiry
A weakness in Zoom is its built-in virtual whiteboard, as it lacks anything but the most basic functionality.
Instead, I recommend using miro.com. Anyone can create a free account with Miro and have access to its full functionality in terms of drawing, adding virtual sticky notes, uploading pictures, and using an impressive library of clipart-type images (via its ‘Icon Finder’) .
Better still, with my free Miro account I can host small virtual groups.
Ideally, you would invite participants to create their free Miro account and have a quick play with it to get used to the different things they can do a few days before your event, so you’re not having to spend time in the event while people look for their invitations, run into technical problems etc.
Of course your corporate client’s firewalls may be a barrier to their employees signing up, but I haven’t run into any problems like that so far.
Ideally you would want each group to be able to access a separate whiteboard, or a separate area of the whiteboard (in Miro I set up different ‘frames’ for each group and that works fine).
You would also want somewhere (and someone) to capture all the themes that emerge from the Discovery stage, and *all* the ideas that come up during the Design stage (including the ones that appear to be obvious non-starters, since they may spark other more useable ideas either immediately or down the line).
In face-to-face groups I usually use post-it notes or a flip chart – again, you could use your virtual whiteboard to capture ideas, or just the chat function (remember to save it).
An Even Easier Virtual Whiteboard
It turns out there’s an even simpler solution, that doesn’t require people to create an account or log in!
It’s a simplified version of Miro, rather confusingly called ‘Web Whiteboard‘.
You just go to webwhiteboard.com/home, create a board, and then you can share the link with your participants.
It’s missing my favourite Miro feature, the ‘Icon Finder’, and the board disappears after 24 hours so you have to export it before then if you want to keep it. BUT you can easily drag and drop images from your desktop onto the board. Simplicity itself!
My experience with the other widely-used collaboration platform, Microsoft Teams, is pretty limited so far. It’s certainly a lot better since it added breakout room functionality, and its built-in whiteboard seems capable. If participants are used to using it (e.g. for an in-house event in a corporate where MS Teams is the platform that people are used to), then it should work fine.
If you haven’t used it before though, insist on the client providing technical support! The user interface is not very intuitive (I find anyway).
I can only speak from my experience of running small virtual Appreciative Inquiry events – larger online events will be more complicated, and you’ll definitely need more technical support, and administrative support (e.g. to handle incoming questions in the chat, leaving you free to concentrate on facilitating the event).
I can also recommend this free online forum for ideas, tips, and product reviews about running virtual and hybrid meetings:
Do you want to get started using Appreciative Inquiry confidently with teams and small groups?
A new Practical Appreciative Inquiry online training starts soon – click here to get the details and how to book