By Mira Bangel and Laura Grassi

In January 2020 SenseTribe supported Dafne y AEF in facilitating a wonderful 2-day conference in Madrid with 120 participants from philanthropy infrastructure organizations from all over Europe and from abroad. PEX 2020 was a place for individuals and organizations active in the philanthropy sector to meet and build an active community of support, and made it possible to kick-start a number of concrete projects and initiatives.

The plan was to meet again in Istanbul this year for PEX 2021, but with COVID the ‘road to Istanbul’ suddenly became longer than expected. Together with the Dafne team we were wrestling with the following question: 

How can we bring the conference online and create something meaningful? 

Although we had the advantage of people having met the previous year, we still had to solve the challenge of including newcomers and creating a similar magic online at a moment of significant screen tiredness. Despite the challenge, we somehow made it possible!

Over 160 participants enjoyed a 2-day conference that made them discover not only how to meet, but how to co-create and fully enjoy an online experience. We literally forgot at some moments that we were sitting in front of a screen. 

So, how did this magic happen? 

We are happy to share our reflections with you, hoping they will help you co-create your magical online events as well… Let us know what you think about these tips! 

1. Trust is a key ingredient of any work relationship. 

Between SenseTribe, Dafne and Ariadne there is a special bond. We deeply appreciate each other as teams, are comfortable being ourselves and make decisions together. The team delegated a big part of the decision making regarding technology and the process facilitation to us as professionals in the field. Without this trust, none of this would have been possible. Thank you team!

2. We involved a council of stakeholders in the co-creation process 

The council included participants from last year as well as newcomers. This wonderful group helped us identify the real needs, desired outcomes, agenda items and strategic decisions.

3. We put a lot of care in the selection of the right tools

Both teams did their research and shared outcomes. We wanted to make things simple and bring some innovation into the space. We finally chose to combine a well-elaborated Miro board for harvesting the event journey with participants, Spatial Chat for informal spaces and Zoom for the formal and co-creation spaces. You can find a practical guide on how to choose the right tools for your event here

4. A visual metaphor as a common thread

Quite early on we identified a metaphor together that represented the event journey and our Illustrator Marina Roa turned it into a wonderful illustration that served as a continuous reminder of the purpose along each clearly signalled step in the process. 

5. We sent a physical welcome package to participants

Sending a little physical welcome package to all participants made the event real. The little letter-shaped gift with summer flower seeds, your piece of the ‘larger puzzle’ and the tree image brought a sense of connection and belonging to participants and to us hosts and facilitators.

6. Informal spaces 

Informal spaces are key and we need to make room for them online as, without them, we are missing out on an essential part of any event. We enabled free mingling and networking with an intuitive platform during the breaks and before the event. 

7. A mindful opening

A strong opening was the opportunity for participants to connect with others and with themselves. That’s why we invited our dear friend Vasco Gaspar, a skilled facilitator with vast experience in mindfulness, integral meditation and many meaningful practices, to join our team and facilitate a moment of self and group connection. This warm and welcoming start made a difference for newcomers as well as veterans.

8. We purposefully intended to hit the learning zone

When we design participatory events, we foresee an overall flow that allows us to intentionally hit the learning (or groan/growth) zone. We need disruptive moments in an event so participants leave their comfort zones and open up to the emergence of new discoveries. This moment is not necessarily enjoyable, but it is key for openness, new perspectives and truly collaborative creation to take place. 

9. Music and sounds to bring in emotions and a sense of connection

When we are all muted we do not hear each other’s laughter or cheering. So we used a few sound effects to bring a pleasant atmosphere during breaks and self-exercises and even a few sound effects to make the experience even more real and enjoyable. 

10. An artful closing 

We felt it was important for this particular event to create space for art and poetry, to convey deeper meaning and activate the participants’ creative juices. We invited Marina Roa to capture key moments with visual harvesting, great poetry from Stien Michiels and a final closing song for participants. Participants could contribute by sharing insights with our harvesters throughout the event and by whispering a chorus and holding up a light during the final song. The outcome was meaningful art and a magical closing moment that helped us to forget that this all happened on a screen.

11. Wellbeing is key, especially when you are involved in offering meaningful experiences to others

You can only offer truly enjoyable experiences when you are yourself balanced and when the purpose of the event is truly meaningful to you as well. We tried our best to take care of our own wellbeing so we could offer a great experience to participants, and we had the mental and physical capacity to improvise, adjust along the way and work with what was alive in the space at the moment. Good preparation and the capacity to skillfully improvise are key.

12. Our role as hosts and facilitators 

We as hosts and facilitators offer room for co-creation, the participants are the ones that fill it with life and make it all happen. So THANK YOU to all 160 participants who made this event a truly unforgettable experience!

Here are some articles written about the event by participants and contributors of PEX 2021: