From despair to where? Some lessons from lockdown

This was originally written as a ‘reserve’ presentation for RIVAL event 3‘s ‘sharing our skills’ section. Fortunately enough people who are good at presenting volunteered, so Hazel Hall suggested I turn it into a blog-post. 

So here it is. The first part is a whistle-stop tour through my current ‘life under lockdown’; the second part is some lessons from recent online conferences I’ve attended, and from many community council online meetings. It’s meant to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but with some genuine lessons and realisations.

I should admit that the title of this post is a deliberate misnomer. I’ve despaired over many things, but turning RIVAL events virtual is not one of them. (It has been a lot of work though.) 

Click any image to see it full-size in a new tab or window.

Thanks to Marina Milosheva for advice on an early draft.

The new normal: at work, at rest and at play

My life is now online and virtual in many ways. Here is where I spend most of my waking hours. But is this really a design for life?

Here’s how I rest: technology in hand, with soya latte, chatting with colleagues at the Centre for Social Informatics during one of our 11am regular coffee-breaks via MS Teams. (<joke>I’m wearing a mask because I’m afraid of computer viruses.</joke>) Nocturnal rest relies on audiobooks via my iPhone, with bluetooth-connected pyjamas for my ears.

My health has been online for about 4 years now. My diabetes doctors and nurses can see remotely how I’m mismanaging my condition due to the magic of FreeStyle Libre sensors and LibreLink. Meanwhile I don’t have to prick my fingers many times a day to monitor my blood-glucose levels. (I’m looking forward to compiling code for a MiaoMiao device that will convert the sensors from flash data-capture to continuous data-capture. The official software requires a Google log-in – no thanks!)

My play is virtual: Lifescycle moved to online classes four or five months ago, using a Facebook group. Note the iPhone for following the madness, and the iPad for seeing how long remains.

I make no apology for the propaganda!

But even before lockdown, I’d have my iPhone on my bike’s handlebars, trying to keep on route and watching the numbers.

I only realised when preparing the presentation that I’ve been moving towards a virtual/online life since I was very small. (I didn’t aim for this – life just happens!) Looking back, virtual communication technology of various kinds has been part of my life since the 1960s.

1960s/1970s reel-to-reel tapes to communicate with Australian side of family
1970s/1980s mix-tapes – remember them?
1980s chemistry BSc: my first experience of the internet
1980s/1990s publishing work included running my first company website and creating a local Fairtrade website
  • my first PDA – with email
  • my first personal website (2002)
  • my first blog (2004)
  • my first iPhone (I’ve had at least 5)
2020s who knows – but I mostly want to find out.

Some lessons from – and for – online events

I’ve tried to learn from 4 online conferences I attended recently – and from Hazel being at another. These are listed in chronological order. Credit for anything good is due to these conferences’ organisers – not me!

#AECIST20 (health information behaviour)
Informationkompetenz und Democratie
ISIC 2020


Risk management guidance says we should identify and examine risks, then for each decide whether to avoid, accept or mitigate. So, for RIVAL event 3:

  • avoid: we’re doing it virtually so we don’t infect each other. We’re putting a lot of material online so we don’t need to choke bandwidth with video, or risk things going wrong with screen-sharing.
  • accept: we can life with the occasional bandwidth issue or presentations not going quite to plan.
  • mitigate: we have some back-up plans. (I’ll shared these with RIVAL network members as appropriate.)


  • Do one thing at a time, so you do it well. Think UNIX!
  • Delegate, have colleagues ready to step in (thanks Katherine, Rachel) – and have back-up pieces in case anything fails. (This can also been seen as a mitigation – lesson 1.)
  • Be part of a community of committed professionals. (Librarians have got this nailed, if CILIPS20 was anything to go by.)


  • Practice your content and your tech. (I thought the presentations at CILIPS20 were pretty slick, but they told me many had been practiced. It worked!)
  • Have slides etc ready to roll – avoid needing to load them before they can be seen. (This is a moan specifically at MS Teams, but may well apply to other video-conferencing channels.)
  • Write how-to-do-it notes for your speakers and hosts.

Lesson 4: adapt your programme

  • Half-day events are best. I learnt this from AECIST20. Full days of full attention are bad for the head.
  • Even for half-days, there should be enough breaks (at least one every 90 minutes), and these should be long enough not just to stick the kettle on briefly, but to grind your beans, froth your milk and make that much-needed soya latte.
  • Watch out for time-zones if attendees are from across the globe. American-based attendees will not appreciate starting at 9am European times. Antipodeans will be collapsing at their keyboards if things go on until the European evening.


  • Encourage no multi-tasking, that is stay off work email and other tasks unrelated to the event. (Watching presentations while live-tweeting is fine, of course.)
  • Use chat and other ways of ‘typed’ engagement (e.g. padlets, GoogleDocs)
  • Use breakouts and back-channels to socialise and engender community, as near as you can to meeting new friends and old in the coffee-queue or smoking shelter.
  • If you are a conference host, you could have some ice-breaker questions or fun quizzes ready to break the ice and set the mood. For example, you could ask ‘does anyone have any bad habits’ or for people to post photos of the home-office fire-escapes. (Hence the photo for this lesson.)

lesson 6: contact details

  • Share attendees’ and speakers’ contact details in advance (with their permission, of course).
  • This particularly applies to speakers’ twitter-names and conference hashtags. (Be nice to your live-tweeters and they will be nice to you!)

Lesson 7: be seen to be having fun

If conference hosts are seen to enjoy what they are doing, that will inspire others to enjoy the event and add their own sparkles. It really works! So even though I will be quaking in my boots through RIVAL event 3, I will have a great big grin on my face. (It does help that I will be working with fab people, of course.)

Here endeth the lessons. Roll the credits!

Links and resources

Photo and screenshot credits

Bruce online

CC websites


Risk management advice


Marina Milosheva


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