Webinars: bringing people together online

Article, 14 August 2017

IIED's online seminars about land rights bring together experts from around the world to share knowledge and exchange ideas.

This still image from a joint UNICEF/EVALSDGs webinar shows the webinar presenter, his presentation, some of the participants, and questions being submitted (Image: UNICEF Evaluation Office)

Webinars provide an opportunity for people to share and exchange knowledge via the internet. They offer many benefits, including flexibility, reach, the ability to target specialist audiences, and low hosting costs.

There are a number of competing webinar services available. IIED uses the Adobe Connect service, because in our trials, participants found it easiest to use as there is nothing to download before joining a meeting.

A webinar is an online seminar, with presentations followed by a moderated, usually text-based, discussion. A web conference on the other hand involves a verbal discussion, moderated and led by a chair. Participants use their computer microphone or audio headset as directed by the chair. We take time to discuss with the host researcher which format is preferable.

While there are savings to be made in terms of not needing a physical venue and travel costs, preparation for a webinar should be as thorough as for any type of event. From the decision that the webinar is the best format for an event, up to last-minute testing and technical support, a webinar project can run over several weeks and involve many days of staff time.

Our legal tools team hosts around three webinars a year.

IIED webinars have a structured programme: the moderator opens the event with a formal introduction to the topic, then two guest speakers give presentations. This is followed by a moderated question-and-answer session. The Q&A is text-based, so people type their questions and the presenters reply.

IIED follows up webinars with a blog and a related video of all the presentations to ensure that a wider audience can benefit. Recordings can be edited to include just the presentations, just the Q&A, or both.

What have we learnt?

Webinar participants need to be located in places with good internet connections. Without that connection, participation is challenging, which is why it's important to have a 'plan B' in case the internet is not working. This may involve pre-recording a presentation so it can be played from IIED in London where the connection is normally good. If the core of the webinar − the initial presentation − doesn't work, the whole thing is at risk of falling apart.

A good number of participants to manage is between 15-20 people. This allows every person to participate if they want to.

Legal tools webinars are designed for an invited expert audience; the presentations can be highly technical and cover detailed material. One webinar looked at tools and approaches that can help rural communities to influence the outcome of agribusiness deals.

There may be topics that appeal to a wider audience, in which case the promotion of the webinar needs to go beyond a small email group. This lays the groundwork for reaching a larger number of people with the post-webinar recording and associated blog.

Watch John Legoisa Samourai, Ogiek Peoples development program officer, discuss how the Ogiek community is applying the community by-laws to build community unity and support the Ogiek's legal claim to their traditional lands

The legal tools presentation above was made during an IIED webinar that focused on how communities can use by-laws to secure their land rights.

In 2016/17 two of the accompanying legal tools team webinar blogs made the top 10 views list for our Natural Resources research group, and one of them, the IIED top 10 list. There are two possible explanations: there is a ready-made network of people wanting to share the webinar discussion widely, and the issue of land rights is a consistently popular topic on the website.

The future

We see webinars becoming more popular and widely used – especially as access to technology improves. Bringing together researchers and practitioners from different parts of the world offers many benefits, particularly for internationally-focused organisations seeking to reduce their carbon footprint by reducing travel.

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