ASWB volunteers develop a virtual conference with real-world impact

Print This Post

The REAL Committee, like all ASWB committees in 2020, didn’t hold any in-person meetings, but that didn’t prevent the group from hitting the ground running.

Conference logo: responsive regulation for public protectionWhen ASWB’s Regulatory Education and Leadership Committee began planning the 2021 education meeting, it was clear that the COVID-19 pandemic was going to prevent the gathering from happening in person. For REAL Committee chair Stephan Viehweg, that awareness was an advantage. “It was helpful to know from the beginning of the process that the meeting would be virtual,” Viehweg says. “I’m pleasantly surprised at how well everyone [on the committee] transitioned to going with the virtual format. Everybody on the committee stepped up and did what they needed to do.”

“There’s great excitement about making this meeting the best it can be,” Viehweg says. That enthusiasm translated into a lot of hard work from committee members as they focused on what they could accomplish in the virtual format. Committee members identified speakers and compiled an agenda that covers two timely topics in two days: the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on regulation, and the role of social work regulation in issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Regulatory Education Manager Jan Fitts points out that the REAL Committee has a history of working remotely, even when the meeting is held in person. With only one in-person meeting most years to plan a two-day conference, past REAL committees used Zoom and Basecamp to accomplish their work, just as this year’s committee did.

The meeting agenda reflects that hard work, with presentations from familiar experts like Rick Reamer and Dawn Hobdy alongside perspectives from new presenters like Catherine Caldicott of PBI Education and Tawara Goode of Georgetown University’s National Center for Cultural Competence.

While Viehweg will miss the usual opportunities to network with fellow regulators, he also sees the potential advantages of the virtual conference. “There’s a lot that we can learn from meeting in a virtual space,” he says. In addition, the committee worked to include chances to interact as much as the format allows. “The stretch for the committee,” says Fitts, “was how to create those opportunities without it becoming cumbersome and awkward.”

The meeting platform, Encore, allows attendees to message one another directly, ask questions of presenters, respond to polling questions during sessions, and discuss the conference in an online forum. ASWB is also hosting a “Happy Half Hour” following the first day’s sessions. The online format also allows ASWB to make recordings available to registered attendees through the Encore platform for a month following the meeting.

“I have so much gratitude for this committee,” Viehweg says. “They really rose to the occasion” and developed a conference that will inform and challenge attendees to take a new perspective on two important topics.