Bringing us together – an ‘amazing idea’

10 min read Written by: Victoria Ford

It all started with…

What was that challenge? We wanted to grow the conversations and connections of people involved in digital across Wales, regardless of how they wanted to work post COVID restrictions – home, returning to the office, or returning to face to face interactions. We also wanted to share the great work that’s going on in digital across Wales, start forming new relationships and creating opportunities.

So at about 9:24 on the first of April, having already noted that it was April Fools’ Day, I joined a call with Victoria who excitedly shared her ‘amazing idea’, albeit with a slightly nervous look in her eye as she gauged to see if I’d be on board… or think she’d lost her mind.

The idea

The idea was to run a hybrid event that spanned 2 locations, in north and south Wales and where people could also join from their home, office, car or anywhere – online. It’d be bilingual, with translation, and have some food, drinks… even for the people joining online.

Oh, and we’d do it all with only using Wales based companies.

It really was an ‘amazing idea’, but how to pull it off?

Fast forward two months

After a lot of figuring stuff out and planning, we held the event last Friday. We were joined by 25 people in person at M-SParc on Anglesey, 33 people in the Senedd in Cardiff, and 48 people online using Wales based events platform Haia. This was the first ever ‘2 centre hybrid event’ ever held from the Senedd.

This was thanks to some great collaboration with the team in M-SParc who provided the north Wales location, Lee Waters MS for supporting us with the Senedd location in south Wales (including their fab events and AV team!), as well as sponsorship from Monmouthshire Building Society, CDPS and us as Perago.

We were also grateful for the support of some fantastic speakers on the day. Our MD and Chair of Digital Leaders in Wales, Victoria Ford, opened and hosted the event, welcoming Glyn Jones, Welsh Government Chief Digital Officer to the stage in the Senedd, and in north Wales, Pryderi Ap Rhisiart and Rhun Ap Iorweth AS/MS.

Together with 8 breakout sessions to encourage discussion amongst people who would normally not get the chance to meet – the hour flew by all pretty much as planned.

And we learned a lot. Here are some of our observations.

Be clear on what you want to do, and allow others to input.

Our goal was simple, even though the execution of it was complex. We wanted to get people from 3 locations to have the same experience regardless of location, to share stories and thoughts about how to use digital better. We tried hard not to get bogged down by potential barriers. Moving ahead with the event, setting the date and booking venues and sharing the idea far and wide allowed others to help us come up with ideas and solutions to make things happen.

We have the skills and great attitudes to try something new in Wales.

AV companies can traditionally be sceptical about supporting broadcasts on untested platforms, as there can be commercial and technical repercussions that could sour relationships. We had this in mind approaching the conversation with both Depth Productions in north Wales, and the Senedd AV team in the south with some trepidation. Both completely ‘got’ what we were trying to do and could see that using Haia rather than traditional online platforms was the right thing to do.

The skills of both AV teams took our brief and used their skills to work with Haia to test the compatibility of equipment, firewalls etc.  They were up for making the event work. We have great digital people here in Wales that share an attitude to give things a go to make it work for everyone and this was epitomised at this event.

Don’t forget about people online.

We’d arranged light catering at both the M-SParc and Senedd venues. It’s a great part of networking by drawing people to a common place and helps start conversations. We knew we’d never be able to fully replicate that in someone’s home or remote office, but we wrote out to every person that signed up to join online and asked for the address where they’d be joining from. We then asked Castle Hampers Wales from Cardiff to send a light mini hamper so they’d know that they’d been thought about too. From an event organiser point of view we noted that this has a huge positive impact on maximising attendance numbers so something we’ll do again.

Sponsors that believe in what you’re doing, and add value, not just money.

We were very lucky to have the support of Monmouthshire Building Society, CDPS, M-SParc and Haia as well as our team in Perago. They all worked hard to support us by making new introductions, sharing what we were doing with colleagues and employees and on their socials. Their support really helped attract a diverse set of people to the event, increasing the variety of people and encouraging those from different sectors and geographies to come together. I’m sure any organiser has found before, without external support like this, events can run risk of becoming an echo chamber of conversation, made up from the same people time and time again – certainly not something we experienced in this event.

Power of conversation.

The idea of events like this is to give people a platform, a place where they know others with similar challenges and experiences want to talk. We thoroughly enjoyed seeing people from the public, third and private sectors, government bodies and local authority, SMEs and FinTech all engaged in purposeful conversation. There are definite themes, common challenges, some brilliant ideas. It was great to continue those conversations in person after the event up in M-SParc and at Coffee and Co in Cardiff with post event drinks.

What’s next?

We’re going to be thinking about our role in what we can do to support these connections in the future, probably by organising more events and opportunities to support the great connections we have here in Wales. We’d encourage you do to the same. Help someone with that idea, give support when they are feeling challenged, say “hello” when you’ve not heard from someone in a while.

We’ve all got a part to play in making digital in Wales even more of a success and we can do that through continuing these conversations online, offline or both. This event has taught us that there really is no excuse for not bringing those conversations together.

Thank you to everyone that attended and supported us.