UCL Public Policy


Organising online events Dr Kris de Meyer

In March 2020, UCL Public Policy and the Local Government Association had planned to run a one-day workshop called ‘Pathways to Net Zero’.


22 June 2019

But when COVID-19 struck, we decided to move it online. We learned a lot through running this event about what works well (or even better) in an online format - and what doesn’t.

Pick your platform

Firstly, it’s important to pick your platform carefully. Technology-wise, we knew we needed a video conferencing platform that would allow pair work or small group discussions, and a ‘gallery view’ in which all of the participants could see each other sideby-side.

These facilitation constraints meant we needed to use Zoom. We also found that breakout group discussions need clear tasks and questions. We frequently switched between pairwise and small group discussions, relied on random as well as pre-assigned groups, and discovered that limiting discussions to eight minutes enables them to be more focused than in face-to face meetings.

With 15 people who can only strictly speak in turn in a video call, a plenary is not the place to get an exchange of opinions going. Make sure you know exactly what questions need answering or what experiences from the breakout rooms you’d like participants to share.

Digital whiteboards (e.g Jamboard or Mural) are great to capture the salient points of the group conversations. In our workshop, these worked best for participants who had access to a second screen. Also, making sure everyone was able to spend some time either during or before the session getting used to the technology is important.


One of the perks of breaking up a one day workshop into four weekly sessions is allowing time for ‘homework’. As the aim of our workshop was to foster partnership working, we wanted discussions to continue between sessions. If a task was too complicated to do during the session, or if more time was needed for applying a learning of the workshop to their own practice, we assigned it as a ‘homework’ task. We would always come back to the homework at the start of the next session, such that it had a real purpose in the overall design of the programme.


Timing: design your workshop so that you know what you will do to the minute. However, give yourself five minutes of ‘landing’ time at the beginning, and end with never less than 10 minutes of plenary time, so that you have a bit of flexibility of running over time in other parts.