Before the pandemic Fojo had already created strong professional networks across the Eastern, Central Europe and Russia (ECER) region, but as with all regions, offline events came to an abrupt halt as coronavirus spread with meetings moved to various online events, mainly using Zoom.
Programme manager Veronika Menjoun says that despite the platform killing “the mingle effect”, Zoom proved to be a cost-efficient and flexible method for disseminating and sharing knowledge across borders.
But there were a number of challenges, particularly because the effectiveness of such learning varied among different groups.
“Online education demands preparedness from both sides. The trainers in terms of teaching methods and technical competencies, and the participants in terms of concentration and the allocation of time for online learning.”
The access to stable internet connectivity and the necessary technology was another problem, especially when conducting online activity in more remote areas.
Flexibility was important as Fojo and its local partners worked together to adjust formats for delivering the planned activities while also reassessing the fast-changing demands from the media involved.
An example was the response of Russian partners who, as soon as the impact of the pandemic on the local media industry became apparent, held a series of webinars on crisis management, a move repeated by Ukrainian partners later in the year.
Fojo adapted to meet this demand by arranging events for media managers from participating countries to discuss the challenges they faced thereby providing important human-to-human support and advice.
Fojo partners showed impressive speed in re-grouping and implementing their planned activities in the new circumstances
According to the ECER team, Fojo partners showed “impressive speed in re-grouping and implementing their planned activities in the new circumstances”.
They adjusted their existing training programmes for online delivery and adapted courses. This included shortening training and spreading it over more days so that it could fit in with daily and weekly media production demands.
Another challenge was the annual ECER conference where participants from nine countries usually meet for two days. By late 2020 when the conference was due to take place there wasn’t much appetite for another “talking heads on the screen” event.
To engage the audience better, Veronika says Fojo and its partners used multimedia formats such as live scribing where a professional artist illustrates concepts on a whiteboard, video presentations, virtual tours, and interviews.
She says this was greatly appreciated by the participants, with some saying they “didn’t want to step away from the screen because something new and interesting was popping up all the time”.
According to the ECER team there have been some positives with online training. It requires less logistical work, which means events can be set up faster. This enabled Fojo to organise tailored activities at speed to meet the needs of the independent publishers as the pandemic spread.
An example of this was a webinar organised in April 2020 where participants were able to meet an expert from the World Health Organisation (WHO) in order to learn about best-practice pandemic reporting.
Moving training online also meant that more participants were able to benefit compared to face-to-face events, with people taking part from not only Eastern Europe but also countries in Central Asia which are not part of the ECER programme.
Veronika says that when borders started to close her team was in the middle of implementing a number of international activities with participants already recruited and ready to travel. With no change expected in the foreseeable future, Fojo looked for ways to keep the groups engaged. Veronika says this was the point when new ways of working took shape.
“We conducted start-up sessions online, providing the opportunity for participants to get to know each other, and map common challenges. This also enabled the trainer and Fojo to collect more information about the needs and interests of the participants, which helped us to plan and adjust upcoming offline events.”
Looking to the future, Veronika says that even though Fojo realises that meetings in real life are crucial to the work the organisation does, the ECER programme will definitely continue to run online sessions in addition to physical meetings. She says the combination offers the opportunity to provide more in-depth, process-oriented education and create a long-lasting engagement between the trainer and participants at a small additional cost.