KI is used to working with skeptics. We do, after all, work with scientists for a living. Before the pandemic, when we would suggest a client go virtual for their event, we would often hear some version of: “But the most interesting conversations happen by chance, and you can’t do that virtually.” That has not been our experience. In fact, we have been pleasantly surprised by the conversations and the innovation we have seen from participants at virtual workshops.
KI first began to add virtual components to our events in 2010 when a face-to-face event for NASA on Astrobiology was followed by nine months of virtual interactions and then concluded with an additional in-person meeting.
We consider these milestones as the highlights of our official entry into facilitating virtual events.
- 2018: KI runs Community Scoping Sessions for Coastlines and People (CoPe), its first event with a fully virtual arm, which was held at the same time as three in-person events around the country held simultaneously for more than 400 participants.
- 2019: KI facilitates Reintegrating Biology (RBio) that includes pre-event virtual Town Halls, events (three in-person and one virtual) held simultaneously for 400 participants, and follow-up online meetings.
- 2020: The coronavirus pandemic results in the conversion of many events to virtual, including the SPARC Ideas Lab — our first fully virtual Ideas Lab — and the ARIS 2020 Summit — our first scientific conference with more than 250 participants.
Clearly there are some limitations to what teams can achieve online. It’s not as easy to achieve the ad-hoc interactions that are part and parcel of a physical meeting but it can be done. Additionally, there are also huge benefits to online collaboration. A meeting is no longer limited by the size of the room, participants can be drawn from around the globe, the carbon footprint of the event is substantially lower, and participants can still generate novel, and exciting research ideas. We’ve seen it happen.
Our experience has shown that virtual events can be, at least, as effective as face to face meetings, and potentially more so. Participant feedback surveys regularly give strong endorsement to keeping future meetings virtual, and the collaboration tools are only getting better.
Face to face and virtual meetings both have their merits, and one may be more appropriate than the other for tackling certain types of problems. But, there is no doubt that we are now living in a time when creative, interdisciplinary research can and must be created through purely virtual collaboration. Given the current environment, we invite anyone planning a workshop or conference to consult with KI about how we could help you transform your event into an interactive virtual experience, that preserves the momentum of your science — or even accelerates it.