Tools and tips for online peer support meetings?
March 20, 2020 2:14 AM   Subscribe

I'm part of an organization for cancer patients and survivors. We organize many peer support meetings every month. All meetings have been canceled for now and we are thinking about arranging some sort of online alternatives. I'm looking for advice on how to do this.


Our normal meetings consist of group of people (usually about 10, can be more than 20) meeting in a comfortable room for two hours. There's usually two peer facilitators present. Our meetings are open meetings which means we don't know in advance who is coming. Everyone present has/has had cancer. Discussion is allowed to flow freely and naturally as long as it's on topic and supportive.

We are located in Finland.

Technical side

We already have a large and well-functioning Facebook group but it's not filling the same needs as face-to-face meetings with a small group.

What we need:

- cost: affordable/free for us, free for the cancer patients joining the meeting
- accessibility: very easy for participants to join the meeting, easy user interface (because chemo brain sucks and many of our participants are not very technically savy), easy to install app/program or no installation necessary for people joining the meeting
- minimum 15 participants per meeting possible, more if possible
- has to have voice and text chat, video would be bonus

I've participated in Skype meetings at work and it seemed ok, but I think it's not available in the free version for more than two people (and there were always problems with sound for some participants). What I liked about Skype was the combo of video and text chat and what I didn't like were the technical difficulties plaguing the meetings.

I've done some googling on this and it seems that there are many options that might work for us but I'm hoping to get advice from people who have experience.

How to make it a good meeting?

I'm also looking for advice how make an online meeting flow well. Work meetings have always been quite structured but that would not work well for our type of meeting, I think. But on the other hand, I don't want people talking on top of each other.

If someone has experience of both face-to-face peer support meeting and online meetings, I would be very interested in hearing how they compare. Any tips would be welcome!
posted by severiina to Computers & Internet (3 answers total)
I've just tried Jitsi for the first time.
- It has video.
- It needs to be installed somewhere, for best results don't use the instance they have installed on their own server but set up your own, on a machine with good connection and a good amount of memory; participants do not need to install anything.
- It works in Chrome-based browsers, not in Firefox.
- It can handle groups of the size you're describing.
- It's easy to use (has few controls, but offers good features) and has a text-based chat.

All in all I liked it.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:56 AM on March 20

Probably Zoom. It's only free for 40 minutes at a time, but you can rejoin after 40 minutes, so not a bad time for a bio break.

It's also go things like 'breakout rooms', where you can select, or automatically have people go into small groups (three or four is good), and kind of have a small chat/catchup, which is a lot easier than with 15 people.

You can start with that for a chat, then have the main group being lead by a facilitator, then go into small groups again as needed.
posted by Elysum at 5:01 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]

Google Hangouts is pretty good for this; I have been facilitating a support group with it for about 3 years. There's no time limit, and you can also get a dial in number for those who can't join by video. There's also a chat box. You don't need to have people sign up in advance, but you can add people to a calendar invitation that will remind them to come.

For strategy: it doesn't work as well in a remote meeting to just have people "jump in" and share. You will likely need to go one-by-one. The first couple of meetings will have lots of people talking over each other, but you will get used to it. It helps to have 2 co-facilitators, so you can monitor both the audio/video and the chat box, and support each other in watching to see who looks like they're about to talk. You'll lose a lot of the facial expression and nonverbal cues that would usually help you.
posted by assenav at 2:52 PM on March 20

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