Lessons on virtual collaboration from the 2020 regional complex care convening cohort

Strengthening ecosystems of care Convening

By Alexandra Lipira, Program Coordinator for Field Building and Resources

In spring of 2021, the Camden Coalition’s National Center for Complex Health and Social Needs (National Center) concluded the second cohort of our regional complex care convenings project. The goal of this project is to support communities across the country in strengthening cross-sector partnerships and reducing the barriers to good complex care on a regional level. As with countless other projects planned in the beginning of 2020, this cohort of regional convenings was knocked off their original course by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, thanks to the resilience of the host organizations and expertise of the National Center, the sites held virtual convenings that not only strengthened community relationships and leveraged new opportunities of the virtual format. Through this process, we learned several key lessons for future virtual collaboration:

  • Virtual convenings offer unique opportunities to collaborate
  • Consumer voice is paramount
  • Schedule more discussion time than you think you’ll need
  • Ask for and accept feedback 

Convening in the midst of a pandemic

The 2020 regional convening applications were submitted, selected, and announced amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The emerging pandemic likely impacted the ability of some organizations to apply and participate as they had to turn their focus to the public health crisis. The selected host organizations had to adapt their original plans for an in-person convening by pivoting to a virtual convening. Throughout our partnership with the host organizations, we checked in regularly to reflect on the impact of the pandemic on the convening and on their organizations. Click the host organizations below to read more about their convenings.

2020 regional convening host organizations:

Lessons learned

The pandemic forced the regional convening host organizations to be flexible in how they collaborated with stakeholders in their community and to pivot from what would have been an in-person convening to a virtual one. This was the first time many were planning and hosting a large virtual event and we all learned a few things along the way. The host organizations rose to the occasion and created engaging convenings that reflected their commitment to reducing the barriers to complex care in their respective regions.

Virtual convenings offer unique opportunities to collaborate. The host organizations put much thought into creating convenings that would evoke the same passion and participation as an in-person convening. While virtual convenings allowed people to attend who might not have been able to attend an in-person event, many convening participants also had responsibilities at home that might impede their ability to participate in a virtual convening for several hours at a time. This pushed the host organizations to come up with some creative solutions.

Duke University/UNC at Chapel Hill created a virtual gallery walk, an innovative and well received method that made participants feel as if they were walking through a gallery in person. Attendees were split into small groups facilitated by planning committee members who walked participants through a slide deck that was being updated by all the groups in real time. This activity enabled robust discussion in a small group setting with a fun twist.

The team in Louisiana held bite-sized 60 minute roundtable sessions over the course of four months to lay the groundwork for all their stakeholders ahead of their convening. Their plan to hold roundtable sessions was a way to ensure their convening attendees would have the context to make the convening as effective as possible by allowing individuals to opt into the roundtable sessions that were applicable to them. 

It is important to note that virtual convenings can still be a barrier for those who don’t have access to the technology needed to participate.

Consumer voice is paramount. We work closely with the host organizations to ensure that individuals with lived experience are involved in all aspects of the convening, from the planning committee  to day-of presenters and participants. In some cases, the 2020 host organizations had to think through how best to share the expertise of consumers in a virtual setting. 

For the Pennsylvania DOH convening, we helped plan and facilitate the participation of Quiana Womack to share her experience working to secure adequate support as she dealt with complex care issues. We partnered with the National Center’s consumer voices bureau Amplify to share her experience via pre-recorded video

Brookline Center for Community Mental Health sought the expertise of Dennis Heaphy, a National Consumer Scholar and Amplify speaker, to be a part of the advisory committee. As a member of the advisory committee, Dennis helped guide the planning of the convening and also spoke as part of a panel featuring individuals with lived experience.

Schedule more discussion time than you think you’ll need. In a time when many felt socially isolated from their personal and professional connections, we suspected that convening attendees would want plenty of time for discussion. This was confirmed by the robust discussions happening in all of the convenings, especially in the small breakout group discussions at the MercyOne PHSO event. The breakout groups were facilitated by MercyOne PHSO’s planning committee members who were prepared in advance with thoughtful questions and prompts for their groups. The Duke and UNC team had such enthusiastic discussions that they scheduled networking time at the end of their convening for participants to continue to get to know each other and keep the conversation going.

Ask for and accept feedback. Convening virtually was new for most of the host organizations. Pivoting from an in-person agenda to a virtual one required creative thinking but also adaptability. For example, after the Pennsylvania DOH convening’s first couple of virtual discussions, participants shared that they wanted more time to share stories and talk as a large group. The team adjusted their subsequent agendas to allow for more discussion time.

Next steps

2020 was a lesson in adaptability for the regional convening project and we plan to take the lessons we learned with us as we move into the next round of convenings, whether they’re held in-person or virtually. This year, the National Center is thrilled to collaborate with five new host organizations: 

The 2021-2022 cohort’s convenings will take place in the first quarter of 2022.