Network Annual Event 2020

Regional Network Annual Event, 16 – 17 October 2020 

By Juliana Vandegrift and Padmini Broomfield

In autumn each year, Regional Networkers from across the UK get together for a programme of business meeting, Continuing Professional Development (CPD) workshop and public seminar focusing on a theme relevant to oral history.  

This year’s event on the theme “Oral history in the Covid-19 era” was held online via Zoom video conferencing in response to the restrictions on group meetings caused by the ongoing pandemic. The event was modified with a shorter business meeting on Friday evening and a half-day CPD workshop on Saturday morning. 19 networkers attended some or all of the programme.  

At the Friday Business meeting trustees from the Governance and the Digital Strategy groups presented the progress of their ongoing work and invited responses and suggestions from networkers.  

Mary Stewart gave an overview of  how the digital strategy was working towards improving the Society’s communications with its members and the general public. Craig  Fees’ on-screen demonstration of highlighted its many features and benefits as a forum for discussions. Responding to networkers’ requests for a simple ‘How to’ guide, Craig offered to produce a video and a Zoom workshop. Beth Thomas’s redesigned website received very positive comments and offers to contribute content, images, blog posts and audio. Mary discussed the OHS Data Management and Privacy Policy in relation to the data collected by networkers in the course of handling public inquiries. As SIG Coordinator, Craig gave updates on the activities of the 5 SIGs.  

From the discussions that followed it was clear that networkers appreciated the update and having the opportunity to contribute feedback and suggestions. Working group members were also able to draw on the collective expertise and experience of networkers from around the country and different sectors. John Gabriel thanked Craig, Mary and Beth for their contributions and the networkers in supporting and promoting the OHS.  

CPD workshop: Interviewing in the Covid era 

The half-day workshop focussed on sharing and discussing the methodological, technical and ethical issues around recording oral history interviews under the current circumstances. Three speakers spoke about their experiences of interviewing using different techniques, the challenges they faced and their reflections on whether they would advise or continue to use these.  

  • Alison Chand (Scotland networker) talked about using the Olympus TP8 inear microphone for her telephone interviews for the Rainbows in the Windows project, observing that some interviewees confessed feeling more comfortable and willing to share personal stories over the phone than they would have done in person.  
  • Steve Kelly (Northwest networker) described using Zoom video conferencing platform for his Granadaland interviews. While he acknowledged the loss of some audio quality, he found interviews easier to arrange with working interviewees more easily available and flexible, while some retired and shielding interviewees welcomed the opportunity to talk to and share their experiences when feeling isolated. It also enabled him to interview those living abroad. 
  • Andy Clark (Researcher at Newcastle Oral History Unit), described what he called the ‘hygiene theatre’ of in-person interviewing. Since the elaborate process included disinfecting all equipment, surfaces before and after, social distancing etc, he conducted the interview in his own home so that the onus of following the strict guidelines was down to him rather than the interviewee.  

Online format: For the first online event we had organised, we were very pleased with how it turned out. It was easier to organise, attracted more attendees, saved everyone a lot of time travelling and the OHS budget, and we did our bit to reduce our carbon footprint!  

We invited feedback from participants and it was overwhelmingly positive. Breakout rooms were popular as they offered more opportunity for discussions in small groups, the chat board was hectic as people added comments or provided relevant information, some stayed back for post-session networking. Some were able to attend only because it was online and they could pop in and out to fit in around family commitments. There was also an interest in holding regular or ad hoc short online meetings during the year for mutual support/advice and sharing of experiences. We will be looking into this.  

We will be compiling our experience and the feedback (from the network event and other conferences we have attended) for Polly who is exploring the potential for online sessions for next year’s conference.  

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