Digital collaborations as an opportunity to strengthen international engagement

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Digital collaborations as an opportunity to strengthen international engagement
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"Digital collaborations as an opportunity to strengthen engagement between various stakeholders internationally – the Sustainable Futures Academy" The Open Science Conference 2021 is the 8th international conference of the Leibniz Research Alliance Open Science. The annual conference is dedicated to the Open Science movement and provides a unique forum for researchers, librarians, practitioners, infrastructure providers, policy makers, and other important stakeholders to discuss the latest and future developments in Open Science.
there we go i'm really sorry that i can't see you and you can't see me either but um i will really try to like keep my present presentation short and almost like an impulse talk so that we have a bit more time afterwards like answer more questions and maybe like start a bit more of a dialogue um so yeah good morning after or good afternoon everyone and thank you all for attending um yeah i would like to take you today on a bit of a journey back in time which i'm pretty sure like many of you might have experienced in a similar way as part of the berlin school of public engagement open science human interactions and collaborations are really at the heart of what we do on a daily basis here we run training sessions network meetings hackathons public forums you name it pretty much everything between research and its various stakeholders and audiences so similar to everywhere else in the world covet 19 made a quick and like widely unprepared transition to digital and blended forms of interactions necessary for us this has been um yeah probably expectedly proven challenging to say the least but at the same time these formats kind of really of exchange and and and dialogue felt more important than ever before
so from day one um from from one day or to another when covet started we were faced with a long list of challenges and uncertainties which kind of fundamentally questioned our established practices just to mention a few here being in the same room and having personal contact can build trust and um and an exchange of on an eye level between participants bringing stakeholders into an almost curated like physical space and to make them comfortable was always a subtle but quite profound element of all our formats there's also something yeah quite magical about closing the door of a training room having participants dedicated time to interact without the distraction of emails phone calls or caring responsibilities is something that we couldn't control or take for granted anymore the use of hands-on hands-on experiences and activities was drastically limited in the digital space but these are often quite essential in bridging theory and practice and to inspire interactions but of course the transition also required a complete new skill set both for us as organizers or facilitators but also led to additional training demands from our participants the wave of new technology was quite overwhelming to be frank um i i quite friendly remember a week in april 2020 where i was invited to participate in events across i think was 16 different platforms or software packages the move into the digital world also came with many access barriers like institutional or individual access to software hardware or simply stable internet this often particularly concerns hard to reach audiences which can be a massive concern for public engagement the move digital also came with additional responsibilities like an increased need for data protection last but not least it blurred the already quite slim line in some cases between professional and private settings which requires additional careful consideration when organizing events so everything seemed daunting at first but actually there are also massive opportunities with transformative potential for our best practice and how we rethink events in the future just to name a few here while the organizational effort came with a steep learning curve on our side the cost for events for both organizers and participants were in most cases massively lowered we certainly had budget that we could spend on supporting trainers providing resources or improving access to our events which potentially could both deepen our impact and broaden our reach working in higher education often makes us forget how intimidating research institutions can be many participants don't even consider taking part in a physical event as they think the space is just not a place for them we could enable collaborations and co-creations between participants from all over the world as long as they had access to internet or even just the phone access to new tools and formats allowed us to think out out of the box and how we can facilitate engagement what really works to spark innovation and be inclusive when it comes to different communication styles and personalities digital engagement doesn't necessarily limit true co-production or intimidate collaborat intimate collaborations of the type that happens in small groups closed rooms physical interactions over coffee etc but most importantly i think for me was that the combination of synchronous and asynchronous elements allowed us to move away from one-off initiatives towards a more meaningful way of the training processing engaging and co-developing it also allowed us to be mindful about participants needs and potentially conflicting responsibilities while much focus has been put especially on teaching last year similar dynamics can empower and open and trans um transparent approach to the wider research cycle especially towards participatory formats that explicitly include non-academic non-academic audiences while it became quite quickly obvious that a one-to-one transition from physical to digital events would not be suitable or sustainable we actually got quite excited to accept the challenges to develop new form formats one of these was the sustainable futures academy which i would like to quickly introduce as a case study
the sustainable futures academy took place in autumn 2020 and aimed to bring together researchers from all disciplines professionals and young people to explore creative responses to a sustainable future the academy was a collaboration between the berlin school and the university of cambridge and they had quickly excuse me we generally had three key aims to facilitate exchange and collaboration across researchers artists and young people around the challenges and opportunities of sustainable futures to provide participants with transferable skills and increased confidence to support their future careers to produce creative outputs which develop ideas about sustainable futures and generate meaningful further exchange and interaction with audiences so in a two day intensive training workshop we build the foundations of the skills and created the atmosphere in the digital space and across platforms that we all wanted to work in by working with various interactive tools as well as both in small and large groups we created a virtual space of trust and innovation from there on we continued working in six smaller groups over the course of several weeks each group had a creative trainer as well as an experienced facilitator to support the support the process the facilitation team was in constant exchange to enable cross-group collaborations and to stay responsive to participants needs the groups all work in a specific creative output format which meant no one was an expert and hierarchies between researchers and young participants were immediately leveled out everyone was joined by a shared passion for the topic of sustainability the groups worked in creative writing map making music comics games or digital exhibitions in the last step all outputs were then presented live to wide audience as part of the cambridge zero festival and the berlin science week but the participants also put together an online exhibition to create a legacy for all the outputs
i'm sure the short summary really doesn't do this collaboration any justice but luckily it doesn't have to as i can warmly recommend visiting the digital exhibition that the participants created and watching the sfa documentation film on youtube which really reflects the whole process way better than i could do in five minutes we also work quite closely with an external evaluator throughout the whole process as we felt this is a great opportunity to reflect on our own best practice and contribute to the kind of wider sector and to further embrace both challenges and opportunities of digital and high performance in the future for me personally the most stunning takeaway from this format was that we all started to like fully forget that we weren't in the same room and that most of us haven't even met in real life at all both the film and the evaluation give you some insight in on the details of the process and the experience that both participants and trainers and facilitators had
so in a nutshell what are the lessons learned from the process and one year of online engagement um while this is more um while this kind of move to the digital engagement brings incredible potential it also really opens up again the necessary discussion to ensure a constant improvement of inclusiveness diversity and fair access to knowledge in a globalized world who gets to participate who might be affected by structural barriers censorship or privacy finally how can we combine digital and face-to-face interactions in public engagement in a post-pandemic world with the sustainable futures academy we almost created a little real-life experiment of engagement formats and definitely stretched our own learning curve to an extreme what became clear is that we can retain many of the key advantages of face-to-face public engagement while potentially reaching much wider and meaningful stakeholder globally and can spark new collaborations and impactful exchange innovation knowledge creation and participation within the research cycle can be facilitated digitally in ways that may not be possible in face-to-face settings costs are reduced cross-channel communication is possible for example we use zoom pad whatsapp slack all of these like kind of following participant needs um different tools really cater to different personalities as well different learner types degrees of energy and time investment breakout spaces really allow multiple groups to work on the same space at the same time collaboration can can can more easily be adapted to individual timetables and time zones for a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous elements so my absolute takeaway after one year of on engagement is that the digital engagement challenge can be a powerful tool to break down the image of academic ivory towers contributing to like a more fair knowledge exchange um can i ask you what do you think is the biggest hurdle for you for the next few months as far as moving forward well considering that we are just building up the berlin school of public engagement we really kind of knee deep into strategic work so for us it's really kind of i i've spent eight years in the uk working in culture change and public engagement and now embracing this new challenge in germany that's definitely something that will keep me personally busy the next few months can i ask you i mean i'm from the us but i live in germany for several years where data privacy is really such a big key issue are germans and and organizations really open to the idea of this of exchanging openly data having it out there for free well i'm probably not an expert to talk on this but in general i can probably tell you for my few years a few months now of german experience in that field like we germans do like our rules so like this is like um not necessarily a negative thing but like i think everything is regulated quite well so as soon as i mean most of the rules are in place are really sensible and following them really kind of enables the the protection of participants so we take them very seriously and being part of the eu also helps so um the regulations and collaborations across the u are much easier okay that's a very positive thing of being with eu very good thank you and we have some questions coming in let me switch over here we have our first question and please feel free to add a few more questions as i said this will be our only session for this afternoon so i'll be very happy to have some more questions uh here we have do you think you will continue with digital or hybrid events post pandemic that's an excellent question and something i'm actually quite passionate about because i feel we learned so much during the course of the last year and i think a lot of things work really really well so my big hope for the future will be that we can kind of keep a hybrid format of most things kind of take a mix and match of the best things that work i i'm really looking forward to have physical events as well like being in the in the close kind of personal context with participants but also having the opportunity to have events with people from all around the world having the digital tools that allow more people to actually speak out and get involved i think this combination of the best sides of both worlds will hopefully carry our field in the future yeah super our next question do you have any tips or recommendations recommended platforms for digital collaboration across stakeholders yeah that's always a big one that's also something we always take like a lot of consideration um before we started the organization of any event um i think my tip number one is like decide one that works for you and your participants and then stick to it there's always like this massive urge as soon as you start an event that people want to branch out into like multiple forms of communication and it's really hard to like keep track of of the whole event especially if it if it's running over a few weeks um so what we did for example with the sustainable futures academy and we had everything in zoom and we had every visible information on padlet um which both are quite limited but also from there on we could at least pull all the key information together so i'm not saying those two are the best but um it's just like they were quite accessible for everyone because they are like low cost and they are um you don't have to even have to log in for padlet for example so we had this main point of contact and then we allowed for example the flexibility that smaller groups could choose their own kind of platforms their own kind of channels and we supported that as well but keeping things together i think that's kind of a key learning i would have to agree with you on that absolutely let me continue on we've got a few more q and a's then um our next question is how important are open and free tools
and infrastructures in your view how can we prevent technology lock-ins alina yeah that's a good question and also like something an ongoing debate i think we all need to be involved in i feel like also universities should be kind of should provide some sort of infrastructure especially when it comes to like data security and fair payment for software i think it's kind of um i think we can't avoid having to pay for some good platforms and some good software but that doesn't mean it doesn't have to pay anything for participants so um moving from physical events to digital events is usually quite cheap and having kind of spending some of that budget on like a pro on a kind of um yeah good software and a good platform that's then free to use for participants i think that is kind of responsibility of of higher education institutions at this point yeah fantastic uh since you're our only speaker this afternoon i've taken the uh the authority to give you a few more minutes for q a and we do have a few more questions here um one statement has here thank you for your exciting lecture which i can only agree to on which platform did you organize the future academy event yeah i think i kind of teased it a little bit already so we chose to go with zoom um just because back in autumn like i think we learned a lot more in the last half year but back in that day it was just the most accessible for everyone we had a lot of participants worldwide and something also we learned during that process is obviously not every country has access to any uh to all kind of platforms so for example we had participants from china who could not access some some software and some platforms others they could so we really had to do some research to see like which ones are the most accessible ones the the other platform that i mentioned that we use is padlet which is basically nothing else than a web page where you can like use kind of kind of organize little note cards people can comment on it you can share resources um we can share the links maybe in the chat somewhere but basically it just it's super accessible and people can like use it almost like as a pin board to to share information yeah okay time for a couple more here how did you manage to advertise your initiative and make sure it was being noticed amongst the wide range of digital events on offer in these pandemic times how did you get through the the clutter of events here yeah i wish i would have the perfect answer for that one if someone of you please do get in touch and let me know i think we all kind of reach like a point or like several kind of waves of digital event fatigue and i think i'm not an exception to that rule neither are our participants um i think with the sustainable futures academy what really kind of played our favor made it almost like super easy to advertise is that the participants were all kind of joined by that passion for sustainability so um that that group that audience in particular is really kind of aware when something comes up with the right hashtag and the right kind of channels like they are on it they're so incredibly engaging and interested in these kind of events there was like almost like a piece of cake to get them involved um but that's not true for all events like by all means um quite often it's about finding the right audience and identifying what channels for communication they use um so for us and this in this kind of incident was it was young researchers and young teenagers so basically um twitter was kind of a win for us but um yeah just like take the perspective of your audience and try to see where they hang out and how it can reach them yeah super thank you very much i've heard that terminology often the last couple of months digital event fatigue the acronym in german upcourts and would be def i wonder if that will make it into our mainstream lingo in uh vocabulary in the next few months okay um this is a general question but i still would like to try to ask it to you what other ideas for the future you have that we could all try out oh my gosh like don't get me started on that there are more ideas where that one came from so yeah i think i think um it's really about staying staying curious and staying like being up for the challenge i think like every day we are kind of hit by more societal problems by more societal um opportunities and i think being driven by that passion to make knowledge accessible um yeah we're coming up with new like creative ideas every day so watch this space great we got time i think for two more questions before we wrap it up for our day two uh the first one here is is digital public engagement suitable for any specific topic or would you need at least more hybrid formats for some fields how are you planning to deal with this challenge as the mfn in the future oh that's brilliant i'm not going to try to speak for the whole mfn which is the museum um the national history museum the museum of natocon in berlin which where i'm working and the berlin school is placed there and at the humboldt university um so in general i think there's no real limitation i think you can make every topic work in a digital or hybrid space but one point of cautious is obviously a caution is it's like um privacy issues like obviously some people are not comfortable to talk about something that might be recorded so building that trust with your audience and your participants is absolutely crucial so um careful yes i think you can do it all in a digital space but be really conscious about your participants needs and their worries and yeah also their yeah real life responsibilities that they might have and that might be conflicting with what you want from them