I joined the evaluation team for the BigLF funded ‘Fulfilling Lives – Supporting people with multiple needs’ in January 2014. As a result, my first contact with any of the projects delivering the initiative was at the launch of the learning activities on 22nd January.

To call it a ‘launch’ is a bit of a misnomer. We have some things developed and ready to go – such as this website. However, part of the reason for the event was to find out more from the projects about what they most need from the learning activities. We don’t have preconceived ideas about where the learning priorities lie, and we want to deliver activities that are flexible enough to meet changing needs over the lifetime of the initiative.

After the day we came away with some clear steers of things that were needed immediately – such as support on commissioning local-level evaluation – and we will be doing what we can to help with this in the next few weeks.

One important question I asked myself after the event was ‘what about the practicalities of delivering learning?’ These days it is fashionable to talk about social media, blogs, live streaming, webinars and virtual learning environments – and these approaches can be very helpful – particularly when people don’t have the time or money to see each other face-to-face. They encourage ways of interacting and holding ‘conversations’ which were unknown ten years ago. But at our launch event, to be honest, we had a few IT problems – nobody even got to see the website! And it’s bad experiences like that which put people off even trying using technology in learning.

As often happens at events, at our launch the most interesting conversations probably took place over coffee rather than in our pre-planned workshop sessions. Getting people in a room together and giving them time and space to talk is probably the most effective way that has ever been developed of sharing learning.

So, how do we create a virtual coffee bar? Is it possible? Do we just resign ourselves to the idea that virtual meetings will never be as good as face-to-face – and just use web-based tools for things we know they do well, such as providing searchable libraries? All questions to ponder in the coming months. If you have any thoughts, please let me know.

Blog by Bea Jefferson