Using digital tools to support events

30 Nov 2017

As well as a strong focus on improving digital services for the public, we have a remit to help staff improve their digital skills. This includes making staff aware of and comfortable in using the digital tools that are available.

With this in mind, we worked with the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Team to prepare and run a large event in Oxford about rough sleeping, looking to see where we could add value or make life easier using digital tools.

Rough Sleeping in Oxford

In the latest street count (November 2017), 61 people were found to be sleeping rough on the night of the count, a significant increase from 33 in 2016. In addition to the official count, it is estimated that 89 people could be sleeping rough on any given night in Oxford - up from 47 in 2016.

Recognising this, an event called the City Conversation was organised to bring all partners together in order to find ways to work together in order to help tackle the problem.

Inviting people to the event

We talked to the team about what they needed to organise the event. They were unclear about how many people might attend so needed to keep on top of it so they could adjust plans if the event grew.

As an event organiser I need to be able to invite attendees and track responses easily so that I know how many people are coming

Although Eventbrite is a well established tool (and almost indispensable within the digital community) it hasn’t been that well used for conferences or events in the City Council. There wasn’t a corporate account for staff to use, so we set one up.

Next we helped the team set up their landing page and event order form, making sure we captured the information they needed from attendees to make sure the right organisations were well represented.

Eventbrite replaced the traditional method of tracking responses on spreadsheets, and made it possible to check on responses at any time of day. As it was a closed invite list we weren’t able to make use of functionality like response/bounce rates, and we also identified some cultural issues in first time use of the tool, with some attendees assuming that an invitation letter being received meant they did not need to register.

However, these issues were minimal and with under a week to go the event had to be declared as ‘sold out’ to prevent any further registration.

Capturing audience feedback

We also talked to the team about how they wanted to run the event. As it was called the City Conversation it was really important that we focused on ensuring everyone had a voice, particularly people with lived experienced of rough sleeping.

As a conference attendee, I need to be able to make my point and know that has been captured so that I can be sure it will be considered

From an organiser perspective there were also some practical considerations of how the thoughts, ideas and comments of over 100 people could be captured.

As an event organiser I need to quickly capture and feedback everyones' contributions so that attendees can learn what others are thinking

We turned to a tool called Mentimeter which we had seen used at a similar, smaller scale event. This allows anyone with an internet-connected device to respond to poll questions, provide open-ended responses. These are displayed in real time to display to everyone at the event, and also enables results to be displayed on the web or downloaded. We signed up up for a Basic account with the intention of spreading its use further across the council for a wider range of uses.

While this provided a great solution that answered the two users needs, it also presented some challenges: would everyone bring a device? Would our Wi-Fi cope with over 100 concurrent users? Would attendees know how to connect to Wi-Fi and be able to participate. We knew from research that 50% of people with lived experience go online every day, but couldn’t reply on this.

We designed in a fall-back scenario, where each table would have a member of staff with a laptop capturing conversation points and feeding them in.

Summarising the event

A smaller, but very practical consideration was how a summary of the event could be captured, shared with the attendees and also used for a press conference after the event.

Google Docs has a very low take-up within the City Council, as Sharepoint is our prime collaborative tool (but not that widespread). We set up a document that the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Manager could work on as she watched and listened to event participants, and the same document could then be shared with the presenter on the main screen to enable a ‘sense check’ and enable instant editing in response to attendee feedback.

This same document was then available for the Communications Team to use for their press conference, and then for a press release that represented attendees’ views word-for-word.

Sharing the outputs

As the City Conversation was an inclusive partnership event, it was important that everything that had been captured and discussed was made available to all attendees but anyone else interested in helping tackle the homelessness issue in Oxford.

We’re now working on a Wordpress site that:

  • Provides all the event presentations on Slideshare
  • Gives access to all captured feedback via Mentimeter, and making a download of the data available as a means of promoting openness and trust
  • Providing a platform for ongoing work of the soon-to-be-formed Steering Group on working towards a Homelessness Charter

Helping with Next Steps

Were currently working with the Homelessness Team on exploring if a digital platform could help progress some of the needs of the newly formed partnership, in particular looking at Street Support which is being used across six cities in the UK and engages people with lived experience in its development.