Social media lessons from the World Water Day ‘hybrid event’

Today is Blog Action Day: “an annual event … that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day with the aim of sparking a global discussion and driving collective action”. Last year I blogged about climate change; this year’s topic is water – something I was discussing only yesterday with Luke Edwards from the UK’s Landscape Institute. (Update, 8 November 2010: interview published here)

The Landscape Institute conversation was mainly about how social media might be used by members of a professional association, and I used the example of a World Water Day workshop that I facilitated to show how Web 2.0 approaches can be used to help help plan, promote and deliver a professional event, and then allow follow-up conversation and sharing of knowledge.

World Water Day

DundeeWaterlawWorld Water Day was on 22 March, and, after my experiences in running Be2camp events, I was invited by the the UNESCO Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science at the University of Dundee to provide technical support for a workshop focused on Hydrology, Environment, Life and Policy (HELP) river basins in Scotland. Normally, such workshops take place in one location, with attendees travelling to hear presentations and participate in the discussion, but the University wanted to expand the conversation and make the content available to a wider audience.

The result was a ‘hybrid’ event (see Wikipedia), combining both online and face-to-face elements, which brought together practitioners and stakeholders in the public and voluntary sectors in the Tweed and Dee river basins, distributed across many small towns and smaller settlements in often remote parts of the country.

Before the event, we collated white papers, information about World Water Day, blog posts and even some water-related poetry to share via the Ning-hosted event page, and about 20% of the people who clicked on the Eventbrite registration page signed up to attend either in person or virtually.

The welcome was delivered via a YouTube video filmed in Paris. Most of the speakers talked from a conference room in Dundee, which held about 20 people, with their presentations shared via SlideShare and the Ustream live video-streaming service. Three presentations were delivered from a room in Stirling, and another was presented by a speaker working from home in Galashiels in a rural part of the Scottish Borders. If nothing else, the hybrid event avoided the requirement that everyone had to travel to one place – and the event was open to anyone to watch and contribute via Twitter or CoverItLive. Reviewing the numbers after the event, it was clear that the event attracted significant online interest on the day, despite the specialist nature of the content. And the dissemination has continued….

After the event, all the content was collated and shared online so that people who could not participate in the live workshop could at least see and hear what was discussed. As a result, more than six months after World Water Day, the presentations and videos are still being accessed and viewed – the YouTube video has been viewed over 300 times, the opening presentation nearly 500 times, and the other eight SlideShare presentations have been viewed, on average, over 220 times each – multiplying the original audience many times over.

For me, this is a good example of how Web 2.0 tools and techniques can be used to help disseminate information before, during and after an event, even one focused on a narrow, specialist area of interest. Sharing content online means that the expertise and knowledge of the participants back in March has since reached a much wider audience – something that many academic institutions, professional associations and membership organisations are desperate to achieve. So whether it’s part of a worldwide day of action, or simply another opportunity to share knowledge, social media can be a powerful way to expand engagement and involve a more extensive audience than those able to physically attend a conventional face-to-face seminar or conference.

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