Planning your remote groups

Here are some key things you need to think about before you start your remote groups. This page also includes a “Quick Start” guide to keep things simple and stop you getting overwhelmed.

This page helps you make some initial decisions before you start your remote group, and gives you a checklist as you begin your practical planning. Remember to look at the general Sycamore planning pages here that apply to remote and non-remote groups.

But before anything, here is a quick start guide for remote Sycamore groups.

(A) QUICK START GUIDE FOR REMOTE SYCAMORE GROUPS

It is easy to get overwhelmed with decisions and lists. These bullet points remind you that it doesn’t need to be complicated. Remember that “the perfect is the enemy of the good”: an obsessive desire for perfection can often stop us doing the ordinary good things that we could actually achieve.

  1. GATHER: You need to gather a Sycamore team together, however small. It might be just you and one other person! Pray together and intercede for the Holy Spirit to guide and bless your Sycamore project. If you are working within your parish or chaplaincy, make sure your parish priest or chaplain is supportive, even if they are not actively involved. See the notes about building a team here.
  2. PRAY: Make time to pray as a team. Pray at the beginning, middle, and end of everything you do. Especially at the beginning, hand everything over to God, ask for his blessing and help, leave it in his hands, and then do everything you can to make it work well.
  3. FOCUS: Decide what your target group is. Who is this for? For anyone and everyone? Or for young people or parents or single people or whoever? Or is it for a specific sacramental programmes? And then decide which Sycamore pathway you will follow.
  4. PLAN: Do whatever minimal planning and training you need. See the notes below for a simple checklist and the main remote pages here.
  5. PUBLICISE: Plan some publicity and invite people to register. Don’t worry about numbers! If lots of people sign up, that’s great! If just one or two sign up, treat this as an important pilot group. If no-one signs up, don’t give up but “pivot” – try again but in another way, based on what you have learnt from the first attempt.
  6. START: Dive in with the first session. Sometimes it’s better just to get started as soon as possible, and then learn from experience as you go along (as long as you are not reckless and have the key pastoral and legal areas covered below: privacy, data protection, safeguarding, etc).
  7. REVIEW: Pray together and review things as a team. Have some honest and supportive sharing as a team. Get feedback from those who participated. Share your own feedback, the good things and the difficult things. What were the blessings? What have you learnt? Try to discern what God wants for you and the community for the future.

(B) INITIAL DECISIONS

ONE OR MANY GROUPS

If you have a large group of people signed up, you will need to decide whether to run one central group (with breakout sub-groups) or separate groups that run in parallel. See the “One of Many Groups” page here.

WHICH VIDEO CONFERENCING PLATFORM WILL YOU USE?

If you have not decided yet, then see the “Which Platform” page here.

HOW WILL YOU VIEW THE FILMS TOGETHER AS A GROUP?

If you have not decided yet, then see the “Remote Viewing” advice here.

(C) PRACTICAL PLANNING

PUBLICITY

How will you publicise your Sycamore group? Is it an open group, for anyone who wishes to come – e.g. an enquiry group or a parish formation group? Or is it a “special interest” group – e.g. for Confirmation candidates or First Communion parents or RCIA members? You need to decide the best way of inviting people and publicising the group. See the downloadable publicity materials here, which you can adapt for your own needs.

Options include: Announcements after Mass on Sundays; parish social media; asking parishioners to invite friends and family; using contact information you already have (e.g. lists of those in special interest categories); etc.

REGISTRATION

You will probably need some kind of pre-registration for your group. This will save you the risk of sharing a public link on a public website or social media group.

Possibilities include: collecting names by email and making an email list of attendees; building an online sign-up form into your parish website; using an on-line sign-up app such as Doodle or Eventbrite; asking people to join a specific social media group and then using that group as a way of communicating (e.g. a new Facebook or WhatsApp group created for this purpose). See the privacy and GDPR notes below.

TASTER SESSION

You can run a remote taster session, especially if it is an open group that everyone is invited to (e.g. an enquiry group or a formation group). See the information here about running a physical taster group and adapt it for your own remote needs. The most important thing is to make it as simple as possible to join, and to make it clear that there is no long-term commitment. It’s also a way for you to see how you feel about Sycamore and about working remotely. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes! Just remind people that this is a trial run!

PILOTING THE PLATFORM BEFORE YOU START THE MAIN SESSIONS

Have a pilot meeting with the group where the main purpose is to test the video conferencing and IT. You can do this as a group, or with individual members one at a time. Some of these notes about physical pilot meetings might be helpful.

You can use this pilot meeting as a chance to welcome people, introduce each other, explain the course, have time for questions, pray together, etc. But don’t be shy about saying that the purpose of this pilot meeting is simply to test the technology; then if there are problems it doesn’t matter and no-one is embarrassed, because the whole purpose of the meeting is to iron out problems!

Encourage people to join via a desktop or laptop (rather than a tablet or mobile) – because they can see the other participants better that way, and because it will be easier for people to switch from the conferencing platform to the film that way (if you are using this method).

COMMUNICATION WITH AND WITHIN THE GROUP (Contact Lists, Emails, WhatsApp, etc)

The organisers will probably have contact details of the group members, following your parish data protection, GDPR, privacy and safeguarding policies carefully. This allows them to notify members of any changes to the timetable etc.

Many groups also find it helpful to have a way of sharing on social media as a private group, e.g. via a WhatsApp or Facebook group. This can allow members to connect and grow in friendship as a group, and to continue the sycamore sharing and discussion through the week.

Leaders need to think carefully before they propose this. There are a few issues to consider:

  • It needs to be voluntary and not a requirement for joining the Sycamore group.
  • It should not create a “group within a group”, an inner circle of members with others feeling on the periphery and even excluded.
  • If it is organised by the group leaders, then it needs to conform with all the parish and diocesan policies about data protection, GDPR, privacy, safeguarding and social media use.
  • If it is organised informally by the members themselves, then the parish and diocesan policies may not apply because it is a private group not run or managed by the parish.

CONFIDENTIALITY

As group leaders, you can decide what level of confidentiality you wish to propose to the group and ask members to agree at the first session – as long as this agreement is in accordance with civil law and with parish and diocesan policies about confidentiality, data protection, GDPR, privacy, safeguarding, etc.

E.g. you might say at the first session, very simply: “Can we please agree to have a certain level of confidentiality in the group, and not to share outside the group any personal information that people have shared within the group; but of course we are also following our normal privacy and safeguarding policies, both diocesan and civil”.

APPOINT A SEPARATE TECHNOLOGY HOST

If the group is larger than just a few people, and in particular if you are using breakout rooms or screen-sharing for the film, have different people act as the chair and the technology host. This means the chair can focus on welcoming, guiding the conversation, etc, and not have to divide their attention between their social role and a technology focused-role. One tip: the technology coordinator can turn off their camera so their distractions don’t distract the other guests.

WHAT FORMAT AND TIMETABLE WILL YOUR SESSION FOLLOW

If you are unsure about how to structure the remote meeting itself see the “Remote Timetable” information here.

WHETHER TO USE BREAKOUT ROOMS OR SMALL GROUPS AND HOW TO LEAD THE DISCUSSION

For advice about how to encourage good discussion in a remote group see the “Remote Discussion” page here.

DATA PROTECTION AND PRIVACY

Remember to check that any Sycamore groups run by the parish – including remote groups – are run in accordance with your parish and diocesan data protection, GDPR and privacy policies. This is true for all the information you hold through your Sycamore group, including data you collect from sign-ups and registrations, and any data collected as the group meets. If you have any doubts about the implications of running remote groups in these areas, please check with your relevant diocesan office.

This document may be helpful: National Cyber Security Centre: Home working: preparing your organisation and staff.

SAFEGUARDING

Remember to check that any Sycamore groups run by the parish – including remote groups – are run in accordance with your parish, diocesan and natinal safeguarding policies. If you have any doubts about the implications of running remote groups for these areas, please check with your relevant diocesan safeguarding office.

This document may be relevant for you from the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission: Guidance on safeguarding whilst using videoconferencing platforms for ministry. And see the CSAS website here.