10 September 2020 | Full Poster here

This interactive Mesh learning webinar explored the possibilities for community engagement with health research when we cannot meet in person. What does it take to develop meaningful and valuable experiences online? What are the important lessons we have all learnt about engagement during the COVID-19 crisis?

We heard from engagement practitioners who have run successful projects that did not rely on meeting face-to-face. They shared their learning and we discussed the challenges and advantages of engagement at a distance. Our presenters also offered top-tips on designing and facilitating virtual events and helped delegates try out some interactive tools that can be used to enhance engagement online.

Join the event Discussion Group

Watch Session 1 & 2


SESSION 1: Designing and facilitating virtual events

SESSION 2: Health Engagement at a distance: Sharing successful approaches

Music & Films

General Guides & Resources


What is the biggest challenge for community engagement when we are working at a distance?


At registration, we asked the webinar participants this question. The phrase cloud above shows the top most mentioned issues. Our speakers addressed these within their presentations.

Webinar Facilitator: Robin Vincent

Robin is a social anthropologist and independent learning, evaluation and research advisor with over 20 years’ experience working in social development and public health, in the UK and international settings. He has designed and facilitated peer learning forums on social development, and community and public engagement with health research, encouraging learning among local communities, development practitioners, policymakers and academics.


SESSION 1 - Designing and facilitating virtual events

Órla Cronin, Órla Cronin Research

Órla is a research psychologist, facilitator, trainer and consultant to NGOs and other civil society organisations. In this session she drew on over a decade’s experience of virtual facilitation and virtual training to consider how we can design virtual events to maximise engagement and productivity.  Orla provided some tips on ways to manage some of the challenges (human and technical) of virtual working. She delivered a highly interactive session where participants had the opportunity to experiment with some tools and techniques. 

Click below for Órla's slides


How can we create rapport, empathy and connection with a new group when we meet online? - Fun Retro board with participant suggestions

Q&A with Órla - Fun Retro board with participant questions and comments from Órla

The Producer Role in Virtual Events – more than just a ‘spare pair of hands’? - Article by Órla

Rich Pictures exercise facilitation method - Better Evaluation

World Cafe facilitation method - Better Evaluation

Free Resources to support facilitation practice - The Institute of Cultural Affairs, UK

FACILITATION PUBLICATIONS (suggested by webinar participants)

Escobar, O., Faulkner, W. and Rea, H. (2014) Building capacity for dialogue facilitation in public engagement around research, Journal of Dialogue Studies, 2(1), 87-111

Powell, Mary Ann, et al. (2016) "Ethical research involving children: facilitating reflexive engagement." Qualitative Research Journal

Romsland, Grace Inga, Kate Louise Milosavljevic, and Tone Alm Andreassen. (2019) "Facilitating non-tokenistic user involvement in research." Research Involvement and Engagement 5.1 (2019): 1-12

John Heron (1999) The Complete Facilitator’s Handbook. available here: http://www.human-inquiry.com/cfh.pdf


SESSION 2 – Health Engagement at a distance: Sharing successful approaches

Shane McCracken, I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here!, Kenya & Vietnam

Shane has been running online engagement events since 2003. Programmes like I'm a Scientist, Get me out of here! which has connected hundreds of thousands of school students and scientists helping students see science as something for them. The project is running across the world including in the UK, Spain, Kenya and Vietnam.

 Click below for Shane's slides

Project Report: I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here! - Mesh article

I’m a Scientist Get me out of here! - Kenya project website

Evaluation: I’m a Scientist Kenya - 2014-17 Evaluation Report

Anna Tomson, Africa’s Voices - Interactive radio and rapid social insights during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kenya and Somalia

Anna is a researcher working in East Africa. As Senior Programme Manager with Africa’s Voices, she coordinates large-scale citizen consultations on governance and accountability issues in Kenya and Somalia. Anna spoke about the use of interactive radio and 1-to-1 SMS communication to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, how such technologies can be used to both deliver tailored, time sensitive information to citizens, and influence the accountability and transparency of health service providers.  

Click below for Anna's slides

COVID-19 Kenya: Trusted two-way mass and individual health communications and rapid socio-epidemiological insights - Case Study from Africa's Voices website

Somali Views in the early days of COVID-19: A Rapid Diagnostic - Case Study from Africa's Voices website

Civic Education and Engagement in Banadir: Supporting the regional government’s COVID-19 Response (Unicef JPLG) - Case Study from Africa's Voices website

Sophia Collins, Parenting Science Gang, UK

Sophia is a public engagement practitioner and consultant, who has been running online engagement projects for 14 years. She is keen on democratising science and giving non-scientists a voice in the research process. Parenting Science Gang was a two year project where groups of parents, on Facebook, chose questions they wanted answers to, and then, working with experts, designed and ran their own experiment to answer that question. It's been described as user-led citizen science, or radical co-creation of research. This has led to seven different research projects, on everything from what's in breastmilk for older children, to the experiences of larger mums during pregnancy and birth, with five scientific papers so far.

Parenting Science Gang - Project website

21 things we learned running a citizen science project about parenting - article by Sophia

Top Tips on using Facebook - article by Sophia

Dinesh Deokota, Covid-19 SPEAR Project - Digital Reflections on the Pandemic, Nepal

Dinesh is a public engagement practitioner who works with film, photography and art and uses these mediums to address a variety of issues that are relevant in Nepal's society today. At the moment, Dinesh is engaged in remotely gathering digital voices of people who are trying to make sense of the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had in their lives. He spoke about some of the stories unique to Nepal, the challenges in conducting such activity and how reflections like these can help in the future in terms of mental healing.

COVID-19 Social Science and Public Engagement Action Research in Vietnam, Indonesia and Nepal (SPEAR): Exploring the experiences and impacts of COVID-19 for healthcare workers and vulnerable communities - project website


Our joining music was #Fighers – The Survivors from the HipHopU collaboration with Stellenbosch University’s Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics. Find out more: hiphopu.org.za. Listen again HERE

‘Watch Party’ coffee break films

Câu chuyện phục hồi của bệnh nhân | A patient recovering story 3:14
Oxford University Clinical Research (OUCRU) & Hospital of Tropical Diseases Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam. OUCRU’s Health and Community Connectivity Program: kynangnhanvienyte.org

COVID FEARS: 'At least with AIDS you know how you get it’ 4:56
Samuel Flans, Alfa Fipaza and Abongile Njamela, Eh!woza, South Africa: ehwoza.com

Gà khỏe không cần kháng sinh | Healthy chickens need no antibiotics 1:30
ViParc (an OUCRU project), Viet Nam: viparc.org

TRANSMISSION RISKS: From a 3 part animation series 0:59
Eh!woza with artist Mitchell Gilbert Messina, South Africa: ehwoza.com

General Guides & Resources

Guide: Meaningful Engagement Online - NCCPE, UK

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, UK National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement has crowd-sourced a guide to creating and running virtual meetings and events. The guide draws on the expertise in our sector around online engagement and aims to help us all develop meaningful and valuable experiences online. Download it here

Toolkit: Engaging at a distance - Being Human: A Festival of the Humanities

New toolkit developed by Being Human about planning and delivering public engagement events during social distancing – including a new online events checklist, and some tips and guidelines about holding in-person socially distanced engagement events. Download it here

Guide: COVID-19: community engagement at a distance - BBC Media Action

This short guide is designed to assist development and humanitarian agencies to think through how risk communication and community engagement activity related to Covid-19 can be carried out without face-to-face interaction with communities. Download the guide in Bangla or English here

Article: Nine top tips for running an online networking or collaboration event - Nuffield Department of Population Health

This article summarises some key recommendations for running online interactive events. It is based on learning from a collaborative networking event to pitch new project ideas for increasing food security but has transferable lesson for many online public engagement activities. Read it here

Guide: ‘What Works’ Engaging the public through social media - NCCPE, UK

This guide, developed in collaboration with scientists at UK universities, discusses how to engage the public through social media. Download it here

The NCCPE also have guides on working with local radio, digital media, news media, TV and podcasting. Search their resources here

Event: How to Engage the public in science when you cannot meet in personFalling Walls Engage, 4 May 2020

This discussion event formed part of the Falling Walls Engage Hub Sweden where participants explored how we can be inspired to create meaningful online science engagement, avoid the ‘gold rush’ towards online pop-up solutions, and stay sane while getting there. Read a summary in the event digest here

Research Tools: Busara Online

Busara are a research and advisory firm dedicated to advancing and applying behavioural science in the Global South. Busara Online have expanded their researcher toolbox to meet current challenges. Their ‘how to’ guides help take the research process remote, including participant recruitment, experiment implementation, and qualitative and quantitative data collection. Find out more here and see their guides here

Webinar: Science communication and the COVID-19 crisis - PCST Network, 26 May 2020

COVID-19 presents one of the largest science communication challenges ever, with rapidly evolving science, enormous social and economic impacts and a rising global death toll. Watch this webinar from the Public Communication of Science & Technology (PCST) Network exploring this topic here

Other Resources: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) theme area on Mesh

This area signposts to various resources, tools and guides to support community engagement, communications and behavior change around COVID-19. Explore it here


Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License