Reflections halfway into our first online AVP workshop

We (Graeme Stuart and Rob Duncan from Newcastle, and Selene Moonbeams and Jim Thom from Western Australia) are half way through a 20-hour Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) online workshop (eight 2.5-hour sessions over four weeks) held via Zoom. Our first! The following are some reflections about the process so far. While the reflections will be particularly relevant for AVP facilitators, they may be of interest to others offering online workshops. (See What are AVP workshops? for an overview an AVP face-to-face workshop.)

We are very happy with how the workshop is going, believe that the group has successfully built quite a sense of community and are convinced of the value of offering AVP online. While the workshops are different and some aspects are probably not as successful, there are other advantages and we believe offering workshops online will make it possible for people who would otherwise not attend a workshop, to do so.

There are 12 participants (a 13th registered but did not join) and four facilitators. Only 10 participants made it to the first session as one person tried to join the workshop but had technological problems, and another had an appointment they could not avoid. As we had organised the workshop on short notice, another was only able to attend the first half of the session due to a prior commitment. While AVP would often not allow somebody to join after the first session, we thought it was not demonstrating caring for others if we said no to the person who tried to get on but was unable to. As we were going to have to incorporate a new person into the workshop, we decided to also invite the second person who was not able to join the first session. A facilitator contacted each of the three participants to fill them in with what had happened. In session two, the group was able to incorporate them well and we don’t think it has had a significant impact on the group.

Everybody joined the second session although one person did leave the workshop half-way through. We are quite concerned as we don’t know why they left, and we haven’t been able to contact them since, despite several attempts to do so. We don’t know if technical issues made them drop-out, if they decided to leave, if something happened that made them feel unsafe or if there was something else.

We feel we need to be flexible around attendance as in each of Sessions 3 and 4, somebody has been unable to attend due to sickness or some other unavoidable reason.

The following are some of our strategies that we think have helped and some things we have learned.


  1. The workshops are a big commitment. We join the workshop 30 minutes before the workshop, have a 30-minute check in after the workshop, and spend about two hours planning together between sessions. Some of us also have to spend time between sessions preparing resources (but this will decrease as we go).

  2. While we have a rough idea of what we want to cover over the eight sessions, we are only planning the coming session. This means that if we don’t get through everything in one session, we can add it to the next without feeling we are leaving something out. 

  3. We have done lots of experimentation and practice (including in the Virtual Australian National Gathering of AVP) especially with Zoom technology such as breakout rooms, sharing screens and the whiteboard, and drawing on the whiteboard.

    We have created a shared Google Drive folder for the facilitation team and have a folder for each session.

Zoom and other tools

  1. We make sure people know how to use all the tools before we use them. (See Creating a safe space for a workshop on Zoom for discussion of how we do this for breakout rooms and the whiteboard.)

  2. Once we have introduced Affirmation Names (e.g., Growing Graeme) we ask participants to rename themselves (on Zoom) with their Affirmation Name.

  3. We share our screen quite often (e.g., to show the agenda), but usually not for all that long unless we are doing a brainstorm.
  4. We always have somebody in the main room when using breakout rooms. (See Creating a safe space for a workshop on Zoom).

  5. When doing roleplays, we ask anybody who is not part of the role play to mute and turn off their video. This means that it is easier to focus on the roleplay.

  6. When creating breakout rooms, we do not send them automatically to the room but require them to consciously join the room. We think this is more in keeping with the AVP guides of “volunteer self only” and “you have the right to pass,” and “Think before reacting” from the Transforming Power mandala. If they are sent automatically to the room, they have no say in what happens. At least by clicking join room, they are making a decision for themselves whether or not they will join.

  7. When brainstorming, we find it better to use a Google Doc rather than the Zoom whiteboard (because on the whiteboard, others can only see what is written once Enter is clicked and we can’t edit the writing once it is entered.)

Adapting exercises

  1. Gatherings. (Where we usually go around the circle saying our name and answering a question related to the focus of the session). Once somebody had finished their response, we ask them to pass it on to the next person using their affirmation name. The next person then thanks the previous person (again using their affirmation name). This helps to clearly show when we have each finished and are ready to move on. When we go around a circle it is clear when your turn is coming up, but here it can be at any time, which could be stressful for some people. We remind participants that they can pass if they are not ready, and we will come back to them after the others have finished. An alternative could be to do them alphabetically or to number off (and add the number to their name) and do it in that order, so that people know when they are coming up.

  2. Affirmation pairs. (A challenging exercise where people break into pairs to  answer the question “What I like about myself?”) We broke into threes in breakout rooms. Because we knew some of the participants already and knew they would be OK, we put them in threes without a facilitator. If we did not know them, we  made sure each of the groups had a facilitator (remembering that one facilitators had to stay in the main room). We only made it two minutes each (not three) and  broadcasted a message when it was time to change speaker. (See Creating a safe space for a workshop on Zoom.)

  3. Paper Tear or Paper Tiger. (An exercise where people in groups of four take turns making one rip in a sheet of flip chart until they have made an animal. There is no talking or planning.) We called this Picasso Painting and, in breakout rooms, instead of making one rip, they could draw one line. It worked well. (Given some of the controversy about Picasso’s attitude towards women and sexual violence, I wonder if we should think of a better name.)
  4. Concentric circles. (An exercise where participants are in two large circles facing other—one circle is inside with participants facing out the second circle is outside them, facing in. Participants practice speaking and listening, and change partners several times.) The only difference is that it was done in breakout rooms. We broadcast a message when it was time to change who was speaking, and brought everyone back to the main room when it was time to change partners.

  5. Drawing: How I show my love for someone I care about. We asked people to have some pencils/pens and paper. While they were drawing we played the following video.

  6. Light and Livelies (Energisers that provide a quick break and help build a sense of community).  We have adapted some Light and Livelies for the online context. For example, for The Big Wind Blows we had each person say “Any one like me who”, say something about themselves (e.g., had breakfast this morning), and then pick an action everybody had to do (e.g., a stretch). We didn’t turn it in to a competition  (in the normal game the the person who doesn’t get a seat is “in the middle”) but took it in turns. We want to do a few more which get people standing up and stretching a bit more. After our 10 minute break in the middle of the session, we ask them to show something they had to find during the break (so far we have done something blue, small, big and meaningful).

  7. Responses to conflict. (Using a turtle, shark, teddy bear and owl to represent different ways we might respond to conflict). We used the whiteboard and invited people to draw each of the animals before we introduced the animal, what it represents and whose needs are met. There was lots of laughter and community building as people tried drawing. Interestingly the last animal—the owl—was done anonymously so we don’t know who did it.)

  8. Introduction to Transforming Power. (Transforming Power is at the heart of AVP workshops.) In breakout rooms we each shared a conflict we resolved nonviolently and then each group shared one story with the large group. We shared a link to a Google Drawing document (Transforming Power mandala pieces) with the Transforming Power mandala in pieces and asked the group to say which of the pieces they thought were used in any of the stories. Interestingly the group started to put the mandala together during the exercise. We then showed the completed mandala (and the Aboriginal one developed in the Northern Territory and Western Australia) and introduced Transforming Power. The group appreciated the Indigenous version, and some subsequently used the term “A Good Spirit” when sharing personal stories.
  9. Transforming Power guides. (Hints for that can help in using Transforming Power.) Instead of using the cut out Transforming Power guides, we invited participants to suggest things that would help use Transforming Power or to be open to Transforming Power. After the session we emailed the existing guides as well but didn’t discuss them.


  1. We separate the facilitation and managing technical issues. If an exercise requires the use of breakout rooms, numbering participants or sharing screens, generally this is done by a team member who is not facilitating the exercise. Note that only the Host can put people into breakout rooms. Sometimes the facilitator will share their own screen if it is easier.

  2. We make sure all the facilitators are co-hosts on Zoom so that we can all manage things like muting people (e.g., if there is background noise) or renaming participants.

  3. Two of us are sharing most of the technical side of managing the Zoom technology, particularly breakout rooms, as it does require different skills to facilitation and some of us are more experienced and confident with Zoom and associated apps. 

  4. While there are some differences with facilitation face-to-face, we find we are essentially using our normal facilitation skills.

  5. We have been using some of the challenges of moving a workshop online as part of the process and using the notion of “shining the light”. For example, one person was having trouble using the annotate tool in whiteboard and various people were giving advice about what to do. As we had just talked about effective communication, after the exercise, we asked the person who had been receiving the advice what it was like for them. It led to some interesting discussion.

Other issues/ideas

  1. We need to allow more time for many exercises because the technology or the nature of online discussion often mean that things take longer than in a normal workshop.

  2. We try to make our agenda’s colourful and visually interesting.
  3. We tried playing a video with music during our breaks, but decided to stop as it meant that people could not chat if they stayed in the room.

  4. We need to be very flexible.

  5. It is hard to hold a clinic or to discuss things with other facilitators during the workshop. It would be possible to go into a breakout room, but one facilitator would need to stay with the big group, and we don’t feel comfortable leaving the workshop like that. We can’t even chat during the break. It would be possible to catch up by phone or some other app while leaving the zoom meeting running, and monitoring the room. So far it has been OK and there has not been any occasion where we have needed privacy so we have discussed things in front of the group or after the session. It could be an issue.

Overall we think the workshop is going very well, the feedback is positive and we are loving the group. We are happy to share our agendas and our resources. Once we have finished the workshop we will make the agenda available for those who are interested.

We’d love to hear about your experience, suggestions or questions in the comments below.

To cite this post using APA 7 style:
Stuart, G., Moonbeams, S., Thom, J. & Duncan, R. (2020, 18May). Reflections halfway into our first online AVP workshop. Sustaining Community blog.

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. What are Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops?
  2. Creating a safe space for a workshop on Zoom
  3. The Alternatives to Violence Project: Reflections on a strengths-based approach to nonviolent relationships and conflict resolution
  4. An interactive exercise exploring parenting styles
  5. Seven principles for a strengths-based approach to working with groups
  6. Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), social capital & people from refugee backgrounds

If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), Facilitation & teaching and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Reflections halfway into our first online AVP workshop

  1. Sharing Shena, South Africa says:

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful, creative material. It is exciting and inspirational to see what you have been doing online. We have also done AVP workshops online and are learning more each time. I have a question: have you developed an online AVP evaluation form for a Basic workshop? We were about to compile one but thought maybe you have already?


    • Thanks Shena, Great to hear you have been doing some online work. Thanks for the reminder you wanted the form, and sorry for the delay. I have sent details to you. Graeme


  2. Grazyna Bonati says:

    Thanks to you all who have contributed to this valuable information. Good luck with the rest of the workshop and i look forward to reading your future reflections.

    Best wishes
    Gracious Grazyna

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi Graeme, Selene, Rob and Jim
    You are all doing a fantastic job carving out new technology going where no one has gone before for AVP. I am so pleased that you created a sense of community in the group. That was something that worried me and the fact that you were able to do it is great. The issues of people not turning up or leaving happens in face to face workshops from time to time and may not necessarily due to it being online unless there are technological issues. We saw that happen in the VANG. However I am a bit concerned bout the length of time the facilitators spend between sessions planning for the next session. In a face to face workshop that is not possible. Is the extra time needed because of the technology around features in Zoom which is what I suspect or something else? That length of time needs to be looked at otherwise we could have facilitator burn out. Clinics if needed remain an issue Light and livelies are continuing to evolve and in time will be at least as good as face to face. We may finish up with totally different ones.
    Michael from Wagga Wagga

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Michael, With the time between sessions, I think there are probably four main things:
      1. We haven’t done anything like this before, so we have to think about how to do a whole lot of things online. E.g., How can we do role plays safely online, how can we do broken squares and so on. We also have to practice using some of the technology to make sure we are on top of it.
      2. We haven’t worked together and come from different states that have different approaches to exercises. So if somebody suggests an exercise, we have to explore how WA and Newcastle does it because there are often difference. E.g., When I suggested violence and peace tree, while the WA facilitators knew what I meant, they don’t actually use a tree and do it quite differently. (Which is one reason I have loved working with them.)
      3. We don’t have a standard agenda so we have to plan as we go.
      4. Breaking the workshop into a number of smaller sessions, takes more planning. Newcastle has done quite a few workshops spread over 5 or more weeks (in our face-to-face workshops) and we do find that we need to debrief and plan after each session, which takes time. One thing I like about having separate sessions is that we don’t have the pressure to get through a days agenda. If we run out of time for an exercise, we add it to the next session and have time to plan for what to put in or leave out.
      There are challenges, but I definitely think it is worth it!


  4. Michael Burke says:

    Great Reflections, Thankyou.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Judy Litke says:

    Thank you for sharing this amazing pioneering work, making AVP available on-line, not letting Covid-19 put the brakes on workshops, and for giving updates on how this initial workshop is going. Thanks to all facilitators and participants for paving the way forward.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lynda BECK says:

    Thanks for information about what happened.
    Great program, good on you all. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alison Herzfeld says:

      All very interesting and cleverly done. It’s a pity we can’t do this for prisons. I wonder if we could combine ZOOM with face to face. e.g. if we are doing a normal workshop in a room, could we include outback people on ZOOM?


      • Hi Alison
        I would be very hesitant to combine people in a room and people on Zoom, but instead offer some workshops online for people who can’t make a face-to-face workshop. (There would be nothing stopping people joining the workshop from different places in the world as long as they shared the same language and the time suited them. I love the idea of being able to experience how different places in the world offer workshops.)
        The problem with combining face-to-face and Zoom is that the people on Zoom generally miss out on sections. For example, if we were to do an energiser that involved moving around, it would be hard or impossible for the Zoom partcipants to join in. It can also be hard for them to hear everybody, particularly if a couple of people speak at once.
        So while it is a nice idea, I don’t think it would really work.


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