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  • Donald Hobern

Why a virtual workshop?

As important as in-person events like Biodiversity_Next are, the international scope and sheer number of interesting projects across the biodiversity informatics landscape make it impossible for us to rely exclusively on physical meetings to share insights.

Many of us lack the opportunity or funding to travel to meetings. Many more of us are concerned about the carbon impacts of travel itself on the biosphere we're working to understand and protect. We must find a better way to work together.

We do not expect virtual workshops and conferences to solve all of these problems or, indeed, to replace all conference-related travel. There's no underestimating the value of meeting each other face-to-face.

But it's our intention, working through the alliance, to learn how to collect ideas in a more distributed and occasionally asynchronous way while ensuring that we develop and refine shared visions and plans that draw from the widest possible contributor base. We regret that we haven't yet cracked the language bias in these plans but aim to do what we can together to address this for future meetings.

The model we propose to start with is very simple. We expect to adapt and fine-tune it for future workshops, based on what we learn from each one in the series.

  1. We establish a clear focus and set of questions for each workshop. If other topics come up during the discussions, however important they may be, we will try to put them aside for future workshops. Maintaining an achievable scope and dealing with more "bite-sized" topics is likely to make this more successful.

  2. We will advertise the topic and dates in advance and announce the moderators for the topic. We encourage participants and moderators to communicate freely and directly at any time—together we are part of the same community.

  3. We will invite a key stakeholders or experts in the workshop topic to prepare short videos, documents or other self-standing input materials to prime the discussion. These materials will all be available on the workshop site in advance of the workshop discussions. These inputs should be short and clear, focusing on explaining issues, identifying opportunities and recommending responses. The object of making them available early and keeping them brief is to make it easy for anyone in attending to prepare and participate even if they have limited time to dedicate to any given day's or week's activities.

  4. The workshop will start on a given date and with an expected end date. The moderators will post an initial summary and a set of opening questions/issues on the alliance discussion forum.

  5. We will encourage people who wish to participate to contribute their own views and ideas in response to the initial agenda and starter questions. These interventions can raise new questions or issues for consideration and add input materials to the workshop’s discussion forum. Organizers and moderators will choose selected contributions and add them to the agenda how and where they can most improve the discussion.

  6. The workshop will run as a series of short cycles of between one day and two weeks, according to the availability of the moderators, the length and complexity of the workshop, the level of contributor involvement, etc. At the end of each cycle, moderators will post a short summary of discussions that record matters of broad agreement, indicate dissenting views, highlight remaining open issues and identify any new issues or questions that have been raised. These summaries will serve as the foundation for the next cycle of the discussion.

  7. The short-term output of each workshop is a publishable set of consensus conclusions on how to address the topic and the identified issues. If the organizers and moderators determine it's necessary, they may extend the period for the workshop to address any remaining issues.

  8. Following each workshop, the moderators will take the lead in preparing a summary road map co-authored by the contributors. Depending on the topic, this paper may be a blueprint for shared activity, a proposal for a specific project or set of projects, a call for community adoption of best practices, etc. Our hope is that the open and inclusive format will give all stakeholders confidence in the appropriateness of these recommendations.

Next up: icymi hints of it at Biodiversity_Next, introducing our plans for the first alliance virtual workshop…


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