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Published: November 26, 2020

The First Hybrid GISF Forum

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A few months after the realisation of the first hybrid GISF Forum, Laura Van de Vloet, Project and Membership Officer at GISF shares her reflections on the three days event and how GISF is adapting to the pandemic.   

‘GISF is great and the forum was excellent! This may have been one of the most engaging forums I have attended! (And that’s even with it being virtual!) Well done and thank you to the whole secretariat who have worked so hard to organise, prepare and run the event – you did an excellent job!’ – Forum participant

2020 has been a whirlwind for us all. As organisations and individuals, we had to change the way we work, which most recently meant for GISF organising the bi-annual Forum in a hybrid format. A job that came with challenges but also opportunities to do things in a new way.

GISF’s second 2020 forum took place over three days, between September 29th – October 1st, both in-person and virtually. While we acknowledged the importance of respecting COVID-19 restrictions on travel and meetings, we also knew that a key element of our forums is to create opportunities for members to meet and connect in-person. We, therefore planned for a hybrid event, allowing a dozen of GISF’s UK based members to meet face to face in London on the 29th, while the majority of members joined the event online that day, and the other 2 days being fully virtual.

Forum themes

“I thought the online format worked better than I had expected which was great. I also found all the sessions very relevant and had lots of take-aways. The discussions on Acceptance and the Comms session were highlights.” – Forum participant

Taking into account the repercussions of COVID-19, this forum explored a variety of topics. Amongst others, we looked at opportunities and challenges attached to collaborating with different actors, including the UN and Private Security Providers (PSPs). Members discussed recent changes in, and future evolutions for Saving Lives Together (SLT), and learned about the Telecommunication Security Standard (TESS) Project developed by the UN. Participants then explored issues related to working with Private Security Providers, building on the latest module that was developed by GISF and International Code of Conduct Association (ICoCA).

The forum was an opportunity to reflect on key issues for the humanitarian sector, including diversity, decolonisation and anti-racism, and what they mean for security risk management. As part of this conversation, GISF presented its latest research paper Partnerships and Security Risk Management: from the local partner’s perspective, inviting members to question their biases and partnerships through role-play and scenarios.

During the annual Priority Setting Session, members identified key topics and questions for security risk management, including:

  • Partners and Localisation– how to best share risks in partnerships?
  • Acceptance– what does it really mean to be accepted or are organisations rather tolerated and how can we measure this?
  • Awareness & Capacity-building for Senior Leadership– how can we better achieve buy-in from senior leadership and improve communication regarding security successes but also challenges?

Challenges and opportunities of a Hybrid event

We quickly realised that we couldn’t design this event as we would for in-person or fully virtual events. We had to ask ourselves new questions: How could we engage an audience virtually and in-person, at the same time? How could we shift the design of each session to keep participants’ attention? How could we tackle what we call ‘zoom fatigue’? How could we create a safe space encouraging questions and dialogue when people don’t actually see each other?

All these questions initially looked like challenges, but when taking a few steps back allowed us to see opportunities that came with this new format. A group more diverse than ever could now attend the forum, such as representatives of smaller NGOs that wouldn’t have the resources to travel, all bringing their own perspective to the conversation. We didn’t have to worry about the number of participants, allowing Security Focal Points (SFPs) to invite colleagues, joining for those sessions that were most relevant to their line of work. On top of that, it’s safe to say that this forum had its lowest carbon footprint so far.

‘See’ you in March

As the pandemic pushed us to do things differently, it offered GISF a chance to rapidly improve its digital capacity and understanding of the virtual sphere. This newly gained experience will help us to leverage the best of both worlds during, but also after, the pandemic. We are determined to continue mobilising the virtual world, which will allow for more inclusivity and diversity in our events. At the same time, we are ever more aware of the vital role that face-to-face interactions play for GISF as an organisation which relies on peer support. We know that in-person meetings stimulate relationship building and learning, in a way that can’t be replaced by the virtual environment.

GISF is excited to continue working on the topics explored in September and to incorporate the learnings from this first hybrid event for our next forum in March. Once again, we would like to thank all of those who spoke at, attended, and supported this event.

‘Even COVID-19 can’t take this network down, well done!’


Members can access the forum notes here.


About the author:

Laura works as GISF Projects and Membership Officer (Europe). Having previously worked with the UN and NATO, she is now responsible for tracking, maintaining and enhancing GISF member engagement. The primary function of her role is to develop the member services component of GISF, including bi-annual forums, workshops and podcasts exploring different security topics.


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