5 Lessons from Facilitating a Virtual Working Group

by | Oct 14, 2020 | Learning |

facilitating virtual working group

Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege of facilitating the Data Sharing and Interoperability virtual working group of the Collaborative Cash Delivery network, more commonly know as the CCD.   The CCD is a coalition of humanitarian organisations aiming to harmonise cash delivery for increased scale, efficiency, effectiveness and collective impact.

Facilitating a working group is never straightforward or easy.  Herding cats or squirrels tends to be the analogy used and is often very apt. Here are 5 keys lesson I’ve learnt so far.

Clarify Purpose

While the concept of data sharing and interoperability seems fairly clear, it is not.  It can mean many different things depending on your perspective.  We spent a number of meetings clarifying what each organisation and each person meant by this.  But most importantly, we spent time discussing WHY we wanted to share data.  Starting with WHY brought clarity faster and was the thread that pulled through all future discussions.  Our why was deduplication.

Explore Models and Assumptions

After clarifying our purpose, we started exploring different ways of achieving our purpose (deduplication).  In the end we had at least six different models of data sharing which would achieve the purpose of deduplication.  Through these discussions we teased out many insights, ideas, and most importantly assumptions we were working with.  We regularly updated and tested our assumptions as we went.

Communication does not lead to Enrolment and Engagement

There were about 5 or 6 of us who showed up almost every call and each call also had a new person on it. So for the first 8 months of meetings, we started each with a review of the WG’s objectives, clarified the purpose (deduplication) and  walked through the assumptions.  After each meeting we sent brief minutes around to everyone in the working group and a wider network mailing group.  Even so, enrolment and engagement in the work was very tough.  It was often seen as a IT problem, while in reality it is a governance challenge not an IT one. 

Balance Technology Possibilities with Organisational Change Appetite

The technology is the easy part.  I’ll say it again and again, the technology is the easy part and data sharing, interoperability, and deduplication is 20% a technology challenge and 80% a governance and organisational change challenge.  Most of us in the working group want to use newer technology and operating models which would enable the communities we seek to serve to take their data with them and use it in their lives.  However, we all felt this was a step too far for our organisations at the moment and so we proposed an interim step.   Constantly balancing what is possible with what is likely feasible is just that – a constant balancing act.

Going beyond Compliance is tough

The working group took legal, privacy, protection, and security compliance as a minimum.  Our aspiration was to go beyond compliance looking through a duty of care lens.  However, partly because of point 3 and 4 above, when we came to the legal agreements we stumbled as most of our legal teams were not interested in going beyond minimum compliance. 

I could go on with other lessons I’ve learned or re-learned.   Facilitating a working group like this is never a straight line from start to finish. It is more of a looping, meandering walk in which we often revisit stops along the way.  While some days this is extremely frustrating, other days it is helpful, necessary, and insightful.  Our working group continues to meet and tackle challenges around data sharing and organisational change.  

The most important part of the process is showing up.  I’m thankful for those that did and continue to do so.  

Photo by Gabriel Benois


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