Home > Home > Responding to Covid-19 > Digital Engagement > Top tips for planning and running a session

One of the most important things we can do at this time is elevate the voices of children and young people, through creating spaces that are welcoming of all perspectives, and hearing from children from all backgrounds.

Below are some top tips for planning and running digital participation sessions, both for individuals and groups.

Prior to any digital participation and engagement work, consider the safety and wellbeing of participants as the top priority.

For guidance on safeguarding and digital engagement, please see our guidance on Staying Safe.

1. Prepare

As a group, agree on a date, time and duration that suits the participants. Be mindful of different routines during lockdown, as well as different levels and frequency of internet access.

Ensure children and young people have clear information about each session before it starts, and provide space for contributions and feedback. During the session try to stick to the plan so that the time together is as clear and easy to follow as possible.

2. Platform selection

There are several well-known online video chat platforms that can be used for digital sessions, which have become popular ways of enabling group connectivity. Many platforms are free to use and can host large meetings. Some have additional creative features such as fun backgrounds, emojis and options to share music, sound files, images and documents.

While there are many benefits to using these for group sessions it is important to remember that there are privacy, security and data protection issues with these platforms.

Prior to choosing any of these platforms for participation and engagement work, it is important to understand the privacy, security and data protection settings of your chosen platform, and to put adequate safeguarding arrangements in place.

For more information on safeguarding in the context of digital participation work please see our section on Staying Safe. You can also visit the NSPCC’s guide to online platforms here.

Many young people access social media platforms on a regular basis. These channels could be used to creatively engage with children and young people through

  • Live story options
  • Group challenges
  • Sharing or joining virtual tours as a group

Consult young people to develop effective and meaningful participation opportunities through the social media platforms that they use.

As with all online platforms, accessing social media also exposes children and young people to risks such as online bullying, exploitation and abuse. Prior to using social media for any participation and engagement work please ensure that safeguarding measures are in place, and that participants know how to keep themselves safe online.

For simplified, child-friendly terms and conditions of various social media platforms produced by the Children’s Commissioner click here.

Video chats are not for everyone, and it is important to think creatively about different approaches to digital participation and engagement work.

There are numerous apps that enable collaborative activities without the use of video chat, such as interactive whiteboard apps and collaborative multimedia apps. These online platforms can be highly engaging for group work, and offer a fun and visually stimulating alternative to video platforms and social media. These apps may be particularly good to use for brainstorming and planning sessions, and groupwork with younger children or groups with a range of learning styles.

There are many more apps and online platforms that can be used to meaningfully and creatively engage with children and young people. It is important to be mindful about data protection, privacy and security when using any of these apps.

3. Create a safe and welcoming digital space

Collectively create a digital group agreement at the beginning of an online session, to establish a shared understanding of behaviours and processes. You could use a creative platform to brainstorm ideas together beforehand, covering topics such as:

  • Respect
  • How to participate
  • How to keep each other safe
  • Places to go for help outside of the session
  • The age range of participants
  • Consent for screenshots
  • The names we choose
  • Non-discrimination discussions

You can find the Child Friendly Cities & Communities team’s example of a shared space agreement here.

Return to this shared space agreement at the beginning of each session and encourage everyone to hold each other to account.

As reflected in the Staying Safe section, many online meeting tools have a camera function. Make it clear that participants can choose to cover their camera if they’d rather their face is not visible to everyone. Alternatively, they could use a picture, emoji or toy to represent themselves.

Privacy is as important as ever, so we need to support each other to only share what is safe, and what we feel comfortable with.

Find a mechanism in the session to check in with participants, as you would during a face-to-face session. This might be in the chat function, or by reminding everyone how they can reach out to supporting adults during and beyond the sessions.

4. Run the session

Make the sessions more fun by trying out new ways of collaborating, and being led by the group’s ideas. You might like to try:

  • Incorporating music into your session plan, perhaps through starting a collaborative ‘lockdown playlist’ together;
  • Trying out different digital backgrounds, such as Studio Ghibli’s free backgrounds;
  • Capture a ‘feelings journey’ during this isolation period by using a shared post-it board, and starting a session with the word that best describes participant’s moods. After a couple of months you can start to see the journey that you’ve gone on together as a group, especially if you colour code the mood board.

There are some great digital ice breaker activities, or you could encourage a physical warm up in isolation to get the blood flowing and the minds working.

Try breaking into smaller groups for discussions, or to take a lead on a particular piece of work. On many of the platforms it’s possible to leave and re-join using the same link, which enables breakout spaces.

Plan for this in advance, with links ready for these breakout sessions. Consider how this will work with supporting adults, depending on the age and development of who is taking part and the topics up for discussion.

Group dynamics are more difficult to read on digital platforms. Structure the session so that it appeals to different ‘learning styles’ and ways of participating.

If participants are using the chat function of the digital platform to pose questions or share information there should be an adult moderator available to keep on top of comments and make sure that everyone is respecting the shared space agreement. They should also understand the safeguarding arrangements in place if someone expresses they are worried for their own safety, or the safety of someone else.

5. Session close & follow up

A participant may share a great idea that needs some development in order to ensure it can be carried out in a way that is safe and mindful of happiness, privacy and wellbeing for all children and young people. Thank them for the contribution, but make it very clear that it needs some further thought before being recommended. Follow up with all those who were in the session once child rights and safeguarding principles have been considered.

Make sure that online sessions are followed up with agreed actions and clarity around the next steps together. If children and young people share their ideas for action, ensure that everyone hears back from you; that they know what has happened and what their influence has been.