DIGIEDUHACK-101: 5-steps to transition from offline to online
Our guide to smoothly switch from an offline event to an online event
For a DigiEduHack host, planning any in-person event in times of pandemic is a nightmare: what if the situation suddenly changes or if the local rules get suddenly more restrictive? Luckily we have a plan for you on how to switch from an offline event to an online event. And it's easier than you think. The only requirement: read this article as soon as possible so that you're ready and know what to do!
The secret to a seamless offline-to-online transition lies in good preparation. No matter what is your local situation regarding the COVID-19, it's part of your host duties to ensure that your staff and participants will all be safe during your event. If you organise an offline DigiEduHack event, we highly recommend you to start crafting your offline-to-online plan from the beginning of your host journey. This transition plan is as crucial as building your challenge or recruiting your crew.
Have a plan ready before you need it.
Step 1. Get the technical side ready
As explained in this article, you actually only need three tools to run an online DigiEduHack event: your digieduhack.com event pages, an omnichannel chat board and an online video meeting solution. If you have followed our guidelines on how to run an offline hackathon, chances are that you already have set up your event pages and your chat board. You just need to set up your online video meeting tool. You can have a panorama of the existing software on our resource page, and how to use it in this article. Of course, do a test-run before actually using your online video meeting solution to ensure that your camera/mic are working and get used to the basic functions of the software you're using. Done? Now software-wise, you're ready to face any situation. Let's move on to the crew.
A good crew preparation is essential
Step 2. Prepare the crew
An important part of the success of your transition plan relies on the capacity of your core crew and your event crew to follow and adapt to the transition. You can ease up the process by clearly defining who-will-do-what before, during and after the shift and by informing your crew members way in advance of what they have to do in case of a transition. The crew configuration used below is based on our recommendations from the Complete Host Book (we recommend you to read our guidelines /recommendations regarding the organisation of an online Digieduhack event in the Complete Host Book).
Offline or online, the DigiEduHack project manager retains the same role: making sure that everything is safe, well-timed and under control at all stages of the transition. During the transition, the project manager will set the tempo, give the green lights and the marching orders. If you are reading these lines, this probably means that... you are a project manager of a DigiEduHack offline event. Remember that you're not alone: the DigiEduHack Central Team can help you in crafting a personalised transition plan. Book an appointment via the Host Line (yes, it's free!)
The comms will be crucial during the announcement phase of the transition. The communication manager should have all the messages ready enough in advance so they don't need to be rewritten once the roll-out has started. Boiler-plate texts are perfect for this purpose. The messages should be deployed on all possible platforms to ensure ALL participants can be reached, with no exception. The communication/community manager should ALWAYS wait for the green light from the project manager to roll-out the comm and act in coordination with the established plan!
With their outsider position, the consultant/mentor can assist the project manager in the transition, for example by making sure that all aspects of the event are taken into account. The consultant/mentor can also take care of informing higher-level partners, institutions, etc. The consultant/mentor should ALWAYS wait for the green light from the project manager and act in coordination with the plan!
Moderator / facilitator
This role was important in an offline configuration: it becomes crucial for an online event. Your moderator/facilitator will be the face and the voice of your event: this will greatly condition the engagement of your participants. The main difference between an offline and an online hackathon is the "isolation" of the online participants that might affect their commitment. It's much easier to close a browser window and leave a virtual event than it is to close an actual door and leave the room. The moderator/facilitator creates an actual link between the participants and the event.
The great thing for mentors with the transition if their role is much more flexible. During an offline hackathon, mentors have to be physically present at the venue, which might induce them some idling time. It's a different game online: you can allocate and plan availability time slots for mentors who can take part in your event from anywhere in the world.
This role doesn't change in substance (volunteers are still the "community service agents" of your event) but it does change in the form. In an online event, volunteers will be in close contact with participants through all media channels and will have to answer questions, solve issues of all sorts, and deal with anything that might interfere with the event's marching order. All this in real-time. This means that in the case of an online event, your volunteers must have a slightly different array of skills than for an offline event: they must know how to use an omnichannel chat board, they must be familiar with the online visual meeting tool you're using in addition to the specific knowledge linked to your event. To ensure a smooth switch from offline to online, we recommend you to train and empower your volunteers to use the aforementioned tools as soon as possible when preparing/planning your offline event. The earliest your volunteer will be using your chat board and meeting tool, the sooner they will be operational after the transition took place!
Photo-videographer / editor
It's not because you're getting online that you won't need these members of your crew. But here also their role will change a bit. Again, one of the key element of success in an online hackathon is to keep participants engaged and committed until the end of your event. One way to achieve this is to create a "sense of belonging" among your online participants. And this is where image professionals can step in. Create mini image-based non-mandatory slightly off-path contests (such as "take a 5-seconds video though your window", "take a picture of your desk", "send a picture of how you feel at the moment", ...), ask everyone to send the images to a dedicated address, let the image professionals edit, compile and create material out of this user-generated creations, and share the results among participants (if you share on your SoMe channels and of some participants might be recognisable, remember to ask permission).
Stick to the plan, follow your path
Step 3. Do things in order
You're ready to take the decision to go from an offline event to an online event? Both the technical side and the human side are ready for the transition? Great, you now have to spread the word. 1- warn your core crew (if not already done) 2- warn your event crew. 3- warn the DigiEduHack central team so we can switch the status of your event on digieduhack.com Be sure not to forget or leave anyone off-topic. Remind everyone their new duties under the online configuration: it might be a great idea to have all the messages prepared in advance, group by group (a message for the mentors, a message for the moderators, ...). 4- warn all your "physical providers": venue manager, catering services,... 5- now you can "go public" and announce the switch to all your participants. Don't be scrooge on the channels: the more the merrier. 6- decide if your now-online event is still open for participant registration, and check the status of your event on digieduhack.com
Step 4. Don't. Roll. Back.
As you might imagine, the situation for your participants at that stage might be a bit confusing. Do not roll back: once you've chosen to start the transition, follow the plan. Don't change your messages, keep on track and just go for it. Be clear and most importantly always, always, always be consistent. And don't be afraid to repeat things.
Step 5. Breathe deeply: you did it
Congratulations: you mastered the Art of Transition for Hackathons. Now you can run your online DigiEduHack event.