Equity & Inclusion in the Age of Virtual Convening

During this month’s Member Call, led by Kate Czarniak of Synergos, we focused our discussion on sharing the challenges and opportunities associated with virtual convening and specifically, how different people are affected in terms of having access to virtual events, based on their geography, class, race, ability, and even language. We had organizations represented from around the globe that work with communities that face both similar and distinct challenges when it comes to virtual convening. Below we share some of the guiding discussion questions along with ideas and challenges shared by the group. 

What might make our virtual spaces NOT feel safe?

This was one of our main discussion points – how might we unintentionally be making others feel uncomfortable or unsafe in the way in which we are thinking about, designing, and implementing our virtual spaces? 

  • Hillary Allen of Net Impact shared that similar to in-person convening, and maybe exacerbated by virtual convening, is the lack of representation of different groups and voices when it comes to a speaker or facilitator line-up at convenings. At many events happening around the globe, participants aren’t seeing their communities and perspectives represented on stage or in the limelight due to a variety of factors – internet bandwidth issues for diverse speakers, a recycled pool of speakers who present at the same convenings every year, timezone issues, etc. 
  • Kate, our guest spark, mentioned that all too often, we also ask the same people, our colleagues or speakers, to represent their entire group and be a champion for all of their challenges – when in fact, even as a white female, she has power in being able to champion those same challenges on behalf of other communities as long as she is open, transparent, compassionate, and always listening actively and learning from them. 

What are some ways that we, as conveners, are addressing equity and inclusion for our communities?

  • Christy Stanker from Net Impact shared that they have built into their convening budget a stipend for those participants who have bandwidth or data issues to actually purchase larger packages of data to be able to access their virtual events. 
  • Denis Pavon from Impact Hub Managua shared that one of the first things they do is actually send out a survey to all of their participants to see what kind of access they have to virtual convening – what their connectivity looks like, what digital tools they have at their disposal, etc. They then take that information and craft their convening to accommodate their community as well as sometimes provide additional digital devices to those that have none. 
  • Sarah Sterling from Conveners.org shared about equaling the knowledge field, so to speak, by never assuming that people know how to use the digital tool you have chosen for your virtual events. Conveners should always build in time to train and orient both their staff, their presenters, and also their participants on how to use their virtual tools in the time leading up to their event. 

We hope these insights from our member community have helped you think about the different challenges and opportunities that virtual convening presents. If you have any ideas or suggestions, please feel free to contact Sarah@conveners.org