As we have seen before, during online conversation sessions trust is built as a result of a shared warm communication style. This trust is an important building block to motivate participants to show up for new online sessions. But a motivation based on trust only is fragile.
In the situation where participants fail to be present at one or a few consecutive online sessions, chances are that they will not return to the group communication. In these cases, active moderator encouragement is needed to persuade the absent participants to return to the group. Existing trust between group members is a powerful argument that can be used by the moderator, as is the fact that other participants miss them. While these arguments fulfill the role of psychosocial integration enablers, they are generic. Participants achieve psychosocial integration by other means also. The online sessions are only a part of the mix.
To create an irresistible cocktail of motivations, participants should realize that the sessions empower them to better realize their evolutionary aim: to achieve a better position in society for them and their offspring. This is why we noted earlier that framing of the topics of the online conversation sessions in these terms is important. With this framing in place, online conversations now serve both participants’ short-term goal (psychosocial integration) and long-term goal (a better position in society).
During the first few sessions, the frame itself should be sufficient to motivate participants to show up for the next session. But after a while participants should feel that concrete progress was made, that they are taking real steps towards a better position for them and their offspring in society.
Participants need to see progress over time. And this is where the moderation script comes in. At the end of each session, moderators ask all participants, one-by-one, what sense the session had for them. What they need to add is a request to each participant to write their reflections down. These notes are the starting-point towards answering the question of what is in it for the participant. Step-by-step participants built their own dossier of what they get out of their engagement in the sessions.
The participants’ notes at the end of the sessions tend to be written and forgotten immediately. That is why it is crucial that every few sessions (for instance: every sixth session) a session is organized to evaluate participant progress. The goal of these sessions is to get participants to revisit their notes and become consciously aware of how the online conversations are helping them to achieve a better position in society for them and their offspring.
One way to plan these evaluation sessions is that the moderator reminds the participants at the end of the online conversation prior to the evaluation session to gather all the notes that they have written at the end of each of the previous sessions and have these notes available at the next session. Then, at the beginning of the evaluation session, after the scripted question how the individual participants feel, the moderator allocates a few minutes for the participants to read their notes and to write a one-sentence assessment as a summary of their concrete progress booked. Next, participants are invited to read their one-sentence assessments to the other participants. The others are then invited to react constructively.
The sharing of the assessment and the constructive reactions of the other participants highlight the value of the online sessions: individual participants experience the affirmation of the progress made towards their long-term goal (a better position in society) and their short-term goal (psychosocial integration). On this fundament, they will build their loyalty to the online conversation sessions.