Gomm Valley Community Engagement Event

Project Details

Human + Nature is a developer building a new sustainable settlement in the Gomm Valley, Buckinghamshire. We were given 8 weeks to organise a three day community engagement and design event in June 2018, for up to 300 people to attend.

The primary aim of the event was to raise awareness about proposed development plans for the area and provide stakeholders with an opportunity to raise concerns and feed into the design proposals at a very early stage.

Unlike typical stakeholder engagement consultations, the proposed development plans and drawings were exhibited on the actual site, in an open field. This created an informal atmosphere whereby locals could have frank and honest discussions with a team of multidisciplinary specialists about the proposed plans for the area.

Process

Design and run an event with minimal carbon footprint and environmental impact by using curated suppliers sourced through our own network and through market research. This was combined with in-house technical calculations to continually assess impact.

Internet connection

A reliable network with high bandwidth

For attendees

A stable internet connection is essential. Use www.speedtest.net to take a test. More than 10mb upload is fine.

Inside the exhibition tents
A group of people watched television at a slum in Gulbai Tekra, an area in the city of Ahmedabad in India. By Jaydeep Bhatt

Community

One of the sustainability themes at Legacy expects event planners to create inclusive events by promoting access and celebrating diversity.

When planning a virtual conference, ensure that existing socio-economic disparities are not amplified by the rapid move from physical to virtual. For example, some technically sophisticated solutions may be out of economic reach for many communities. Long, interactive sessions may not fit well with childcare and other caring duties of the participants. First-class access to virtual spaces may require large up-front investments in, for example, network infrastructure; in some parts of the world, this may raise significant hurdles.

Some platforms may not be accessible in some geographic regions. For example, Google,
Facebook and YouTube services may not be easily reachable in China. If possible, event organisers
should test availability and quality of services from regions where people have registered.

Many participants will need to watch and listen from home, but their internet connectivity may
not support high-bandwidth streaming video. Thus, offering a fall-back option that allows
asynchronous downloading or audio-only participation, including dial-in by phone, can ensure
that nobody is excluded by network constraints. Make sure to check whether the platform you are considering offers local dial-in numbers across all regions of the world!)

This applies particularly to presenters, whose at-home bandwidth may not be sufficient to reliably stream video, and whose housing situation may not offer a quiet space for remote presentations. Giving presenters the option to present via pre-recorded video should be strongly considered.

Blind man using a braille screen reader. Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

Accessibility

As with live events, accessibility touches all aspects of the virtual experience, from platform selection and budgeting to digital resources and online logistics. Here are some issues that event organisers should consider.

The choice of accessible platforms and tools- ensure that these can be readily used with screen readers, screen magnification, live captioning, and other assistive technologies and services. Many
people with disabilities have ample experience of what works for them to collaborate remotely so rather than assuming or guessing, work with your attendees to see if there are particular tools or particular ways of using tools that maximise their experience.

Compared to in-person events, it may be easier to find high quality remote services like sign language interpretation or captioning. Some attendees may already have access to interpretation or captioning services that can be used at no cost to the event. Others may request services
from the conference itself.

Establishing best practices for preparing and running accessible sessions. Participants who are Deaf and located in the United States may be able to use a dial-in conference line with their government-subsidized video relay service (VRS). The participant dials the conference number and a communications assistant at that service will translate the conference audio presentation into sign language, visible on a screen used by the person who is Deaf. This incurs no extra cost for the event, but does require that the event platform supports dialling in by phone.

There are also commercial CART (communication access real-time translation) services that will provide real-time captioning, i.e., translating speech into text, for a fee. The text is typically shown to the participant on a web interface.

Some of these services specialise in captioning meetings with professional content, i.e., their
staff are trained to recognise and correctly transcribe at least some scientific and engineering
terms. Some platforms (e.g., Zoom) allow organisers to designate a participant to provide
real-time captioning.

For pre-recorded content, some video services such as YouTube can auto-caption stored
videos. These captions need to be edited by the presenters for accuracy. Although automated
live captions are available on several platforms, this is not yet an appropriate substitute for
human-powered live captioning. Unlike humans, AI-powered captioners cannot handle imperfect
situations such as background noise, overlapping speakers, and poor audio quality. They are
also limited in their ability to accurately transcribe technical content with specialised
vocabularies.

Security and privacy

Any virtual event platform that enjoys substantial usage can become a target for attack, trolling, disruption, and surveillance. Numerous examples of such abuses were documented in March 2020, fueling a sudden concern over the problem and the coinage of the word “zoombombing” (which occurs when miscreants take over and misuse a publicly accessible video conference—for example, by projecting a desktop containing objectionable material).

Many new videoconferencing users are not trained in using these technologies or in underlying
principles of online security and privacy. In most cases, adoption is taking place quickly and out
of necessity, without much opportunity to consider important issues such as security training,
threats to privacy, impacts on vulnerable communities, or laws such as the European Union’s
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the US Family Educational Rights and Privacy
Act (FERPA).
In some cases, platform features can imply a level of privacy that is not truly supported. For
example, messages marked as private between attendees may appear in chat logs available to
hosts, without the knowledge of participants. Participants may believe that virtual backgrounds
will obscure private details on their surroundings, but the image process technology supporting
virtual backgrounds can allow momentary views of the real background that can be isolated and
examined in a recording.

These are important issues and we are glad to see companies like Zoom making rapid strides to
address them. All in all, it is our opinion that these platforms, if properly configured, are
appropriate for the virtual conference use case.

Virtual conferences often focus on content that is considered a “publication” suitable for
wider dissemination, even if the conference itself is restricted to registered participants. As
these platforms are pressed into service for new everyday uses (university classes, virtual
conferences, religious services, birthday parties, department meetings, weddings, medical
appointments, psychotherapist appointments, and even high-level government meetings), it
is important to consider the additional security, privacy, and legal implications implied by
these settings. Indeed, even for virtual conferences, as these platforms are pressed into
service to facilitate more personal interaction between attendees, these issues are of
increasing importance.

Large gatherings of people offer attractive targets for deliberate attempts at disruption, trolling, and other attacks. Conference organizers and platform developers should view their offerings ahead of time through the lens of possible disruptions. Many platforms offer controls such as “Mute all microphones” or “block this participant.” However it is difficult for the presenter to manage these controls in real time without interrupting the presentation. This is one of many reasons to have other volunteers/staff in charge of that aspect and to actively assign co-host privileges ahead of time to those people. Consider creating a specific “Security Officer” position for this task.

 

It is also prudent to have an explicit Code of Conduct that sets down rules for participants and the types of actions that will be taken when violated. Consider including things like a real name policy for attendees (similar to wearing a badge) and guidelines for whether it is acceptable to take screenshots or record other participants (e.g., recording not allowed, or allowed for personal use but not for further distribution). IEEE VR 2020 pre-registered all attendees in Slack and Mozilla Hubs with the full name they used for registration; in Hubs, attendees could change their nickname, but their real name was also visible and could not be changed. “Reception” areas may be considered where participants arrive and get screened, briefed, have audio checks, etc., before being moved to the main meeting. Beyond these specifics, consider testing your platform with an eye toward attendees being as disruptive as possible and then building in defenses for these kinds of disruptive actions. For example, what would happen if an attendee attempted to impersonate a respected member of the community, or if an attendee posted offensive comments or links to malware in the chat? What if many attendees did this at the same time?

 

Appropriate defenses may include both prevention strategies and support for investigation, response, and censure after the fact. Above, we pointed out that virtual conferences will need at least as many volunteers as a physical conference; indeed, depending on how the virtual spaces are organized, they may need many more. When there are many small virtual spaces, be they text channels or 3D environments, moderators become increasingly important as these events become more open to the public. For example, IEEE VR 2020 had almost double the number of volunteers as would have been normal for the physical event, and they were still stretched thin as they monitored and moderated Slack, Sli.do, and Hubs.

Cleaner air, lower transport emissions

A set of bike racks was provided to encourage travel to the event by bicycle. Our attendees were also able to unleash their cycling prowess with our demonstration electric bikes, a great way to introduce young and old to alternative transport options.

Cycle racks

Sustainable event management

Legacy - Sustainable Event Management. We help companies run virtual and in-person events that are sustainable.

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