Virtual programming became a key tool for parks departments across the country over the past long and arduous year. The typical rollout of in-person programs and activities screeched to a necessary halt as communities dealt with a pandemic that made social distancing a requirement for the health and safety of staff and citizens. To compensate for lost face time and personal connections between government and citizens, caring and invested staff began to develop innovative virtual solutions to fill the void left by canceled events, programs, meetings, and activities.
A major component of successful virtual programming is connecting citizens online in a more in-depth and personal way. When many people faced feelings of isolation like they’ve potentially never experienced before, it was important to restore some face-to-face and voice-to-voice connections, giving citizens back a small sense of community that may have gone missing for them for an extended period. One way this was accomplished was by using video conferencing software.
As opposed to something like a self-paced online course, video conferencing tools put users in a virtual space together where they can experience a sense of community and connection that ultimately yields positive results like improvements in general health and wellbeing as well as improved citizen engagement and a more productive relationship between citizen and government.
If your parks and recreation department plans to maintain long-term virtual programming to build on the success of the past year’s online activities, you’ll need to choose a virtual software platform that can grow and scale with your programming goals. The following are a few of the more popular examples of online video conferencing solutions and some of their benefits.
Cisco Webex Meetings
Webex Meetings allows you to host meetings with up to 100 participants with no meeting length limits. Its free version provides up to one GB of data storage and will allow you to record your virtual events. Your participants can access WebEx Meetings either by mobile app or through a browser
Google Hangouts is a highly accessible tool due to the popularity of Google and the number of people already utilizing Gmail, Chrome, and other related Google applications. Google Hangouts allows users to participate in video chats and share screens but with a limit of 10 video chat participants, making it ideal for small classes. As an added requirement, each party member does need to have an account.
GoToMeeting is another popular entry in the video conferencing software domain that has a free version that is best suited for small groups as it is limited to just four meeting participants to collaborate for up to 40 minutes. Meetings can be conducted via browser or mobile app as you utilize your webcam or phone camera to meet face-to-face. Consider GoToMeeting for initiatives such as intergenerational programs, mentor programs, and one-on-one creative instruction.
Livestorm is a video communication tool that allows you to organize and carry out live events, courses, and meetings online with no download or software installation necessary. The focus for this tool is collaboration, and it may prove to be useful for more non-traditional events and activities such as large classes and educational events.
Teams is a chat-based collaborative space where users can also share files, their screens and hold video calls with a time limitation of 60 minutes per meeting, up to 100 participants. A Microsoft 365 paid account is not necessary to access the free version of Teams, but you will need to create an account. Two GB of storage is provided per individual or up to 10 GB per team. Another benefit is the real-time integration with the other popular Microsoft apps like Word and Excel.
Skype has been a popular option in the virtual call space for almost two decades. It provides options for screen sharing, recording meetings, and includes an intuitive method for sharing files via drag-and-drop actions. Meeting participants are limited to 50 users for the free version. Skype does not require an app to be downloaded
Zoom is perhaps the name you’ve heard the most over the course of the last year. It’s a popular and reliable service that allows you to host group meetings of up to 100 participants for up to 40 minutes, and unlimited one-on-one meetings are included with the free version. The free version also contains many useful features such as screen sharing, whiteboarding, and personal meeting IDs.
Find a Solution that Works for You
The services outlined above are not an exhaustive list of virtual conferencing software, as you can find many more free tools to get you started and even more paid, premium tools if you need greater functionality. Know that many options will meet your specific needs, and with a little research, you will find a solution that enables you to maximize your revenue-generating programming efforts.
Continue to Innovate and Expand your Knowledge
The substitution of in-person gatherings and group activities with virtual engagement opportunities has been a process many entities developed out of necessity. Departments made the best of difficult situations and learned many valuable lessons along the way. Now, as vaccination rates rise and municipalities and citizens alike gradually return to a state of relative normalcy, it’s an appropriate time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t and how the tools can be utilized and supplemented in the future. Video conferencing software will continue to grow in relevance and popularity since its usefulness has been seen on full display during the worst days of the pandemic. It’s important to position yourself to take advantage of these services and be proficient with them and look for new ways they can be used to improve recreation programming and your community as a whole in the future.