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My online-public-health-discussion-facilitator-legs have now taken their first steps – and I survived it and would even call it succesful. It is definitely not a discussion that will stand out in history, but it was useful for me and I believe a good introduction of the potential of using social media at seminars, to the people who were exposed to it.

As I blogged about last week, I was asked by the Danish Alumni for Candidates in Public Health (FKFSV) to facilitate an attempt to do some online discussion at their annual meeting [in Danish].

The meeting was live-streamed and people outside the meeting room could therefore participate in the discussion via Facebook and Twitter (using #fkfsv).

I thought I’d share my experiences and reflections on the whole online event and my facilitation thoughts in bullets. So here we go:

Introducing social media to the Danish Public Health community

  • The meeting confirmed what I already expected: that the Danish Public Health Community is not well acquainted with using social media for professional purposes and therefore the number of actively participating online participants was very limited (in addition to me as facilitator 6 people took part).
  • Facebook is the main social media platform for the Danes. Twitter is still unexplored and thus very few have an account, and those who do hardly uses it. The discussion on Twitter was therefore very limited – which was a shame. Facebook was more active, despite the fact that it is not optimal for live discussion. Both because the discussion easily becomes fragmented (taking place as comments to different statuses etc.) and because it allows people to just type away resulting in very long questions. The 140 characters from Twitter is definitely not something people are used to.
  • Posing questions to the experts and politicians through Twitter and Facebook was very effectual. Making a point out the fact that the question came from someone following the discussion from outside the meeting room (at some point even questions from Berlin) was good. Both in terms of making people aware of what social media can be used for but also in interacting with the online participants and making them feel as part of the seminar.
  • Although the actual online discussion was very limited and perhaps could not even be characterised as a discussion but rather a channel for posing questions to the speakers and the political panel, I believe we made a good splash for social media. People participating in the meeting itself expressed that they found it ‘cool’ and useful. There were even people signing up for a Twitter account during the conference!

Facilitation requires participation

  • Having the discussion take place on two platforms is, as I expected, not optimal. However, in a situation where not that many people are present online and the objective primarily is to interact with the live seminar, it was essential to have both Facebook and Twitter going. The linkage between the two when using # on Facebook updates was helpful (although it doesn’t apply to comments on Facebook statuses). We could probably easily have had only Facebook going, but I found it important to introduce Twitter as a useful and appropriate alternative.
  • I had prior to the seminar decided that my role was to facilitate and not do live-tweeting of the discussion. This choice was based on two factors. 1) I thought it  was better not to both report of what was happening and be a facilitator; and 2) the meeting was being live-streamed so most people would be able to get the “full” content of the meeting, making live-tweeting a bit redundant. After the meeting I still think this was the right choice, especially if the discussion had been more lively. Live-tweeting is great, but should be assigned to someone other than the facilitator or just happen impulsively from the participants.
  • I didn’t participate much myself (mostly because there was not really a discussion going on), but it was clear to me, that it was important to have a clear distinction between Nina-the-facilitator and the public-health-Nina. This meant that using different accounts for the two identities was important.
  • The seminar took place on a Friday afternoon/evening . Starting at 4pm and ending around 8pm is perhaps not the best conditions for an active online discussion. It was clear that the most participation was between 4 and 5.30 after which it almost died out. Understandably I would say, so no critic there. Just a lessons learned that timing of the event if you want an active online environment too is important. It could be fun trying to establish some online event during working hours and see how that goes.
  • Introducing the possibility of sharing links via Twitter and Facebook was good. In this particular case it didn’t contribute much to the discussion, but as facilitator it was nice to be able guide and qualify the discussion by introducing that element of using social media for online discussions.

Conclusion

All in all I think it went well. The most important thing was for me to introduce social media as an element in seminars such as the annual meeting and hopefully also beyond the meeting room. It was my sense that some of the people who had never considered social media as something relevant for their work (and there are many of these if you ask me) were shown in a good way that social media may have a role to play. It is a small beginning and tiny first step, but perhaps people will be just a little bit more alert to it next time they come across cases of social media used as a tool in relation to practicing, discussing or researching public health. For me personally, it was fun trying to foster some communication, and especially keeping attention to how you make what happens in the meeting room and online come together. I look forward to trying it again sometime – hopefully with a few more active people online. My online-public-health-discussion-facilitator-legs can definitely take more steps before they are stable.