When the FDI World Dental Federation (FDI) set out to create a consensus statement on sustainability in dentistry with the support of five industry partners, the project seemed complex enough in itself – even before the pandemic forced the organisation to move everything online. With the help of Black Gazelle, the FDI managed to turn a challenge into an advantage and create a comprehensive document supported by a wide range of actors from across the sector – as well as sow the seeds of sustainable change in dentistry.

The FDI set out to work with experts from all over the world and every aspect of the sector, as well as industry giants Colgate Palmolive, Dentsply Sirona, GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare (GSK CH), Procter and Gamble (P&G) and TePe, to create a broad consensus statement that would offer an overview of sustainability-related challenges and solutions in the sector. As one would expect, finding common ground between such hugely diverse players is a major challenge – especially when working virtually across no less than fifteen different time zones.

“We really needed professional guidance on how to structure and manage this process in the virtual space”, explains FDI project lead Rachael England. “Originally, we planned to have a face-to-face roundtable, but this was out of the question in Covid times – and flying in experts from across the globe wouldn’t have been an example in sustainability either. Moving the project online was daunting, but with the help of Ghislaine from Black Gazelle we managed to produce incredible results – probably better than if we had taken the original approach.”

Black Gazelle set out to structure and organise the Sustainability in Dentistry (SiD) project with the FDI. The project consisted of the FDI ‘task team’ led by Prof. Nicolas Martin, Professor in Restorative Dentistry at the University of Sheffield, which was responsible for drafting the document; the five major industry ‘founding partners’; and diverse stakeholders across academia, dental practice, manufacturing, dental associations, regulatory bodies and health ministries who were to be consulted.

This setup meant that nearly fifty people were involved in the creation of the consensus statement. The organisation opted for a Delphi process, wherein the task team would put specific questions to the participants, create a new draft based on their answers, ask new questions, and repeat this process several times to narrow down the issue. This Delphi process concluded in a series of four online workshops facilitated by Black Gazelle. The entire process, from inception to delivery, was supported by an online platform where participants could consult the document and answer questions in their own time.


Getting everyone’s voices heard

Managing aspects like speaking time and group dynamics in a virtual space and a limited time frame is no easy task. “Keeping everyone engaged was a challenge that took a lot of work and thought, but that was managed wonderfully by Black Gazelle”, attests Sean Taylor, Director of Education & Public Health for the FDI. “Ghislaine took a leading role in structuring the project, which led to an efficient and effective process. Having a professional like her on board is invaluable for projects of this size and complexity.”

Black Gazelle’s approach also helped assuage any hesitance participants may have had at the prospect of attending a virtual meeting with several dozens of peers. “I had some concerns beforehand, since this was the first time I participated in virtual workshops”, admits doctoral candidate Hasan Jamal, who took part from Saudi Arabia. “I was worried that it wouldn’t be as efficient. However, Ghislaine did a brilliant job throughout the process and made me feel as if I've done this numerous times. She made us all feel welcomed, and she addressed all our questions.”

Participants agreed that the setup and moderation provided by Black Gazelle allowed everyone’s voices to be heard and reflected in the final document. “Creating a safe and transparent space where everyone can provide their own view is the key to success in a project like this”, explains Joel Hornberger, Director of Global Health, Environment & Safety at Dentsply Sirona. “Having an experienced and impartial moderator like Ghislaine is absolutely essential for that, and with her help we ended up with a very well-rounded perspective in the final document.”

Paul Batchelor, Associate at the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare and dental lead at the UK National Association for Primary Care, agrees: “I was really impressed to see such a wide representation of different people in this project. There can be cultural differences in how our profession sees itself and is seen across the globe, which could lead to heated discussions or misunderstandings. I picked up some of those elements in this project, but they were managed very well and only added value.”


Unusual techniques for success

Several participants commented on some of the more unusual techniques Black Gazelle employs to make virtual meetings a success. “I really liked the centring breathing exercise at the start of each workshop, which helped to get everyone focused on the matter at hand”, says Elizabeth Shick, Associate Professor at the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine. “It was something I had never seen before in meetings like this, but I thought it was a very nice holistic touch.”

A point of contention was the requirement to keep cameras off during the workshops. Based on over 19 years of experience in virtual leadership and virtual facilitation as well as a total of nine years of in-depth research, Black Gazelle makes the conscious decision not to use cameras during virtual meetings. In addition to visual distractions, the use of cameras gets in the way of dialogic interventions and participants tend to be more open when they are not constrained by other people’s facial expression. While most participants agreed that the policy was beneficial to minimise distraction, some mentioned that they would have enjoyed at least briefly seeing who they were talking to.


The beginnings of change

Overall, everyone involved was very positive about their experience on the Sustainability in Dentistry project and found many benefits in participating virtually. “Other formats involving live meetings would have been much less efficient and would likely have delayed the project, which would disturb continuity”, explains Prof Nicolas Martin, “Given that all the participants are busy professionals who engaged with this project voluntarily, the asynchronous platform was hugely helpful in creating pockets of time during which people could comment and engage. I would happily use Black Gazelle’s services again on a project like this.”

The success of the project led not only to the creation of a widely supported consensus statement, but also to the beginnings of tangible action around sustainability for some of the participants. “I learned a lot during the workshops and wanted to put it to good use”, explains Professor Shick. “After the project concluded, I reached out to a colleague from Harvard School of Dental Medicine who had also participated to see if we could do something more with this. Since then, we have organised a special interest group around sustainability within the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) which we hope to launch later this year. We look forward to getting students involved and engaged with sustainability from early on in their careers.”