More reflections from our first AVP online workshop

We (Graeme Stuart and Rob Duncan from Newcastle, and Selene Moonbeams and Jim Thom from Western Australia) were very happy that our first Basic Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) online workshop went well. We believe that, while clearly having differences to an in-person workshop, AVP can successfully be offered online and offer new possibilities for engaging people who would not be able to attend in-person workshops. Examples include:

  1. Including people who list in remote regions
  2. Including people who have physical or emotional limitations on their ability to attend in-person workshops
  3. Offering workshops for marginalised sections of the community who may not feel safe attending a mainstream workshop
  4. Assisting people to do a workshop in their own language (e.g., a person living in Australia could do a workshop in Indonesian offered from Indonesia)
  5. People who live on opposite sides of a political divide (e.g., people from Israel and Palestine).

As more online workshops are run around the world, the AVP facilitators will become better at running virtual workshops. We certainly do not believe they should replace in-person workshops, but they will be a useful addition to the range of potential workshops.

Here are some reflections mainly based on the final four sessions of the eight sessions. There is background to the workshop and reflections from the first half at Reflections halfway into our first online AVP workshop. Topics include: planning; zoom and other tools; adapting exercises and facilitation. There is also a separate post on creating a safe space for a workshop on Zoom.

Two participants withdrew from the workshop because they had other things going on in their lives (and the fact that the workshop was online was not a major issue). The remaining 10 participants attended all the sessions except two who missed a session when they were sick or had technological issues in the first session.

We had few technological issues although some people did occasionally drop out and some connections were not great. But mostly people’s connection was good enough and reliable enough to participate. The digital divide, however, is clearly a major issue when offering online workshops. Some of the participants could only join because Recovery Point (where Rob works supporting people leaving prison or with alcohol & drug issues) helped them to have access to the required technology. Zoom uses quite a lot of data, so participants need to have enough data and have a reliable connection (in order to be able to use their video), which limits who can participate. (Of course many AVP workshops are full day workshop which limits them to people who can give up a full day from work, family and other commitments.)


Session 7 was devoted to roleplays. While we will get better with practice, it essentially worked well and has potential. For the roleplays, we divided the participants into three groups each of which planned and presented a roleplay. After we introduced the purpose and process of the roleplays, we brainstormed some potential scenarios which they could choose from (or they could come up with another scenario). We then placed the three groups in breakout rooms with a facilitator to help them get going.

We created a google doc for each group so they could create a poster introducing their roleplay and which included a reminder of the instructions:

  1. Choose a Conflict that is open to Transforming Power
  2.  Plan how it starts but  DO NOT plan how it will be resolved
  3. Choose Characters
  5. Appoint a narrator
  6. Think of a name for yourself
  7. Make a Poster with
    • A name of your group
    • A name for your play
    • The characters name and who is playing them

Two of the groups had problems with the posters—partly technological, partly not enough practice and clarity within the facilitation team. One group succeeded:

Some of our instructions need to be clearer and it might have helped if we had provided a bit more guidance for the groups. For example, one person played a small dog (very well) so they didn’t really have the opportunity to practice Transforming Power or other ideas from the workshop.

For the actual roleplays we asked everybody else to turn off their videos and mute themselves. This means that Zoom highlights the people in the roleplay. Most phones can show three people so this meant even people on the phone could see all (or most for the group of four) of the actors. It also makes it easier for everyone to focus on the roleplay. We also asked the actors to rename themselves in Zoom with their character name.

In deroling them, we used variations of the following process (depending on the facilitator)

  1. Is there anything you would like to say before you come out of the role?
  2. Are you ready to come out of the role?
  3. Say something like – “you are no longer (roleplay name) you are now (real name) again”.
  4. Invite them to change their name in Zoom from their roleplay name to their affirmation name.
  5. They may want to physically shake the role off.
  6. Did you use any part of yourself (real name) while playing (roleplay name)?
  7. In what ways are you different to (roleplay name)?
  8. Is there anything you’d like to say to (roleplay name) before you go?
  9. Please sy “Goodbye” to (roleplay name).

We only just managed to fit the three roleplays with the gathering, agenda preview, a light and lively (Wha’cha’doin?) and some stretches between roleplays. We would have liked a bit more time at the end of the roleplays for some more discussion. If the preparation of the roleplays had been bit smoother, the timing would have been pretty good.

Essentially we were happy with how the roleplays went compared to in-person workshops and think they can be successfully transferred to an online environment.

Adapting exercises

Once again, we had to be creative in how we offered some activities. The following are some examples.

At the start of each session, we asked people to rename themselves in Zoom with their affirmation name and a number between 1 and 14 (or however many people we expected for the session) and then we used the numbers to set the order when going around the “circle” for things like gatherings (see Reflections halfway into our first online AVP workshop for a few more details about these exercise).

AVP Western Australia uses The Bears cards from Innovative Resources for an empathy exercise. Normally they lay the cards on the floor, ask participants to pick a bear and say “I think this bear is feeling …. And I feel like this when ….”. As we couldn’t use the card set, we found a presentation with slides with 14 of the cards on the one slide, which allowed us to use the exercise. (If you haven’t seen the wonderful resources from Innovative Resources, we suggest you check them out. They have a wonderful collection. Some of our favourites, besides The Bears, include Cars R Us, Strengths Cards, Picture This, The Koalas and Talking up our Strengths)

We invited them to write a letter to their 15-year-old self (or whatever age they wanted to choose). Before the session we asked them to bring some paper and pens or pencils to the session so that they could do it. We asked everybody to turn off their videos and microphones during the exercise and played some relaxing music. It was a good way to do it. Some of the participants chose to share their letters with the group when we invited them to.

The letter to self is an example where we really have to believe that where they are in their journey (in both the workshop and life) is Ok. (As we explained at the start of the workshop using the following poster.) We have no way of knowing what they do with the 10 minutes (especially as they have turned off their video and microphone). They could use it to get a drink, check their emails or do the exercise. We have to trust them to do what is important to them.

We struggled to find a way to do a trust exercise in a safe way. In the end we decided that the workshop had demonstrated a lot of times when trust was needed, and simply had small group discussion about “What do you need to be able to trust someone?” It would be nice to develop an online trust exercise.

We also weren’t sure about how to do affirmation posters safely online. We think we (or somebody else) will be able to come up with a creative idea. For this workshop we did a community drawing (at the top of the post) about “What has made this group a community?” We emailed the drawing to all participants at the end of the workshop.

We managed to do broken squares and, while the online version needs a bit more refinement, it did work well. I will share it once I have updated it.

We invited the group to present each other’s certificates. To do this online, we had a PDF with each of the certificates (and we gave the facilitators one too!) A facilitator (Rob) started and presented the certificate to the first person (Christine) while we displayed her certificate via a shared screen. We then displayed the next certificate and Christine presented the certificate to that person. We kept going with the person who had just received one, presenting the next one, until the last person presented the certificate to the facilitator who started (Rob).

For the workshop feedback, we trialled the feedback sheet developed by the AVP International Research Team that is about to be made available as a Google form.

Debriefing exercises

We found debriefing exercises and facilitating discussion more challenging than in-person workshops. While we were able to have some good discussion, it was less free flowing and more stilted. This meant that it took longer. This will be an area worth exploring in future workshops.

Participants liked the breakout rooms and conversation was more free flowing in smaller groups, so it might be possible to make more use of the breakout rooms. For example, after an exercise in a breakout room, having some discussion in the small groups before returning to the large group to share a few insights or learnings.

We heard from Kins, an AVP facilitator from the Philippines, told us that for their online workshops, they invite participants to have a notebook or journal and, after an exercise, participants are invited to take a minute or two to reflect on the exercise in their journal. We hope to try this in a future workshop.

Overall, we were very happy with how it went. We are excited by the possibilities of AVP online and believe they are very well worth developing even when in-person workshops resume.

For AVP facilitators, the AVP International Education Committee is including resources on AVP online in their Continuing Learning Library available from the resources page on the AVP International webpage. (You have to register as an AVP facilitator.)

In coming posts we will share our agendas, resources we developed and some tips based on what we’ve learnt.

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, 2 June). More reflections from our first AVP online 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. Reflections halfway into our first online AVP workshop
  4. The Alternatives to Violence Project: Reflections on a strengths-based approach to nonviolent relationships and conflict resolution
  5. 4 types of power: What are power over; power with; power to and power within?
  6. 12 principles of a problem solving approach to conflict resolution

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.

1 Response to More reflections from our first AVP online workshop

  1. Graeme, thank you so much for posting this! You provide lots of good ideas and inspiration for our AVP chapter as we try to transition to an online approach during the pandemic.

    Liked by 1 person

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