Because good research needs good data

Hosting a virtual RDMF – some reflections

Thordis Sveinsdottir | 02 July 2020

As with so many meetings and conferences, COVID19 cancelled our plans for running the RDMF20 in London in April. As the topic of management and sharing of Arts data had created interest already, we decided to move the forum online. This was our first DCC full online event (we note though that colleagues in the DMPonline team had moved their training online) and after a few weeks have passed, we can share some of our reflections on organizing and running a fully virtual RDMF.  Please watch our blog also for more reflections on the topic of sharing and management of Arts Data, gathered from the RDMF on the day.

Considerations for an online event

Timing

We realised we could not deliver a virtual RDMF on the original date. We needed more time to prepare and we were also all getting used to working in our home offices. Therefore, a new date at the start of June would provide us with enough time to organise and ensure a timely delivery of the programme. We considered splitting the event over two days to account for busy schedules due to additional tasks when working from home but as we were not sure if this would work for attendees we planned for a full day event with coffee breaks and a long lunch break instead. This worked well in the end, and people were happy to participate in group discussions during the coffee break and at the virtual drinks reception after the event.  We had invited attendees to submit photos or artwork, around the themes of “Meaning of Arts Data” and “Lockdown” for display during the breaks and this worked well as an icebreaker and got people chatting.

Platforms

A move to online meetings also led to a variety of video conferencing platforms being discussed in the media and within our institutions. While zoom was reported to have security issues that they started addressing following the negative headlines, we chose it for the virtual RDMF for a variety of reasons:

-       Breakout rooms: zoom is one of the few video conferencing platforms that allows splitting attendees into smaller groups for discussion. As the networking aspect has always been a key feature of RDMF and is one of the most difficult to replicate online, we really wanted the icebreaker to be an opportunity to network in smaller groups and zoom allowed us to do so.

-      Videoconferencing scaling with audience size: zoom allows a large number of active attendees that can all have their cameras and microphones active. While this can lead to zoom fatigue or create bandwidth issues, it is a nice option to have to create a setup as close to a face to face meeting as possible.

-       Access to accounts: the University of Glasgow already had an institutional subscription for zoom, so with the zoom room kindly provided by the Software Sustainability Institute, it meant that we had enough accounts to run the parallel afternoon sessions using the same platform and setup and record them.

-       Re-use lessons learned from CollabW20 and RDA virtual plenary: zoom was the platform of choice used by a variety of online events DCC members had been involved with over the last weeks such as the Software Sustainability Institute’s Collaborations Workshop and the RDA plenary 15. Thus, the team had a certain familiarity with the system which increased our confidence in running a successful event.

In addition to zoom, we had shared note taking documents and shared folders set up on GoogleDocuments. That allowed all attendees to contribute to shared note taking without needing accounts for a system. In comparison to e.g. etherpad, Google allows for a certain amount of structure in the document which makes it easier to navigate and use throughout the day.

Follow-Up

The sessions were recorded on Zoom and the recordings, along with links to note-taking documents and presenters’ slides were distributed to all attendees after the event. This allows for re-visiting of specific discussions should the need arise and attendees can catch up on afternoon parallel sessions they were not able to attend on the day. We made sure to alert people to the recording beforehand allowing them to opt out.

Advantages of moving online

Running RDMF as an online event allowed us to invite speakers and attendees that would not necessarily have made their way to an in-person event in London. Our afternoon parallel sessions featured facilitators from Austria and the US and attendees joined from Norway, Finland, China, Hong Kong, and Iceland. Going forward, this will allow us to provide even more insights and networking opportunities as it will be easier for an international audience to attend. The feedback we received also indicated that attendees were also grateful for not having to travel and also made references of the environmental benefit of hosting events online.

Your feedback

We want to thank everyone for filling in our feedback survey and we are glad to report that attendees were as happy with the RDMF event as we were as you can see on the satisfaction ratings for the event (n=20).

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Main area for improvement is around discussions which is the most difficult aspect to address in a virtual environment and we acknowledge that any future events could have a higher fraction of interactive sessions on    the    agenda and we will keep that in mind.  

Our reflections

Moving online took a considerable amount of effort to prepare and coordinate. However, the event itself worked out really well and we were rather happy to see so many of you attend and engage. With still some uncertainty about organizing in person meetings and environmental considerations about travelling going forward, we feel that virtual RDMF will be a nice addition to the DCC events portfolio.  We are currently organising the next RDMF around Ethics and RDM, for October 2020. If this is a topic that is close to your heart, please watch this space and get in touch if you wish to collaborate or have suggestions for topics and speakers.