By Kristine Glauber, Ben Miller and Christine Ogilvie Hendren
What is needed to envision and create a virtual conference at which attendees have direct agency in execution of customized, richly interactive sessions?
We share three guideposts from a human-centered design framework in recasting the 11th Annual International Science of Team Science Conference from a face-to-face to a virtual meeting after the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Develop your design principle
Develop your goals for the meeting overall and each individual conference element.These can be referenced when making decisions about how to accomplish a particular task. By identifying the specific goals for your event at the beginning, you can tailor the interactions to meet your attendees’ needs.
Our design principle for the 2020 Science of Team Science conference was to host a virtual conference that would create and nurture connections through interactive, easy-to-navigate, and highly customizable conference elements that preserved our invited and accepted speakers’ opportunity to share their work.
We designed the virtual conference program to include a mix of consistent daily synchronous elements with varying interaction levels and flexibility, as well as on-demand asynchronous elements (“Lightning Talks”). To provide interactive discussion conditions and to confer some agency over conversation size, topic, and format, we created two new session formats within the synchronous activities – the Choose Your Own Adventure Break Out Sessions and Coffee Chats.
A summary of the program is shown in the following figure. The unique conference activities, including the lightning talks, choose your own adventure break-out sessions and coffee chats are described in the table at the end of this blog post.
Understand your attendees’ wants, needs… and actual behavior
A foundational tenet of human-centered design is knowing the humans who will use your system well enough to understand their needs, desires, and behaviors.
In our case, the Science of Team Science brings together people who study, practice, teach, and support interdisciplinary research carried out by teams, seeking the best approaches for solving complex problems. This nexus of disciplinary, epistemic, and sectoral diversity means that what our attendees want from the conference is very different depending on whether they:
- study team-based research to better understand how to do it more effectively, and/or
- implement findings from the field of the science of team science to run their research program more efficiently, and/or
- teach and prepare researchers to perform team science.
Our design process was iterative and informed by conversations with conference stakeholders and longtime leaders in the Science of Team Science community and our collective experiences at previous Science of Team Science conferences, as well as their formal evaluations. Further, in light of quarantine measures in response to COVID-19, members of our planning team experienced various constraints on their time and attention, influenced by shifting personal and professional responsibilities—such as changes in workloads and schedules, childcare duties, and video conferencing fatigue—and we knew the same would be true of conference attendees.
With these factors in mind, we designed the synchronous and asynchronous elements to make it easy for attendees to consume content on their schedule as much as possible. Our aim was to reduce the emotional burden on our attendees, to minimize the feeling that they’d missed too much by stepping away, and to encourage them to keep coming back for more.
The design attributes of the event that were intended to enable this customizable experience included limiting every session type to no more than 90 minutes, varying the format type and required attention span (from invited panels featuring experts on conference themes, to workshops, to informal discussions), and creating conditions to welcome interested community members into the drivers’ seat for their own and others’ experiences.
Design and implementation of technical platforms: Focus on clarity and simplicity
For a virtual event, the hosts must provide clear, consistent communication about “where to go,” and create a virtual environment that is easy to navigate. This reduces complexity and cognitive burden, allowing attendees to focus their energy on engaging with the content.
We created the conference “Home Base” to serve as a hub for all conference-related information (see table below) and updated it daily to emphasize what attendees needed to know that day.
To guide participants through each day in the absence of a printed program or concierge desk, we created a dedicated landing page for each day of the conference, containing all program details, Zoom links, and other necessary information. We used the Home Base and a daily morning email to direct attendees to these pages.
One technical take-away that emerged from this conference was capturing the energy of the interactions in a way that harnesses the momentum. We all missed being able to meet in person to exchange innovative ideas. However, a pleasant trade-off emerged in the form of live-captured, co-created resources generated in the meetings using Google Docs, Slack and other shared repositories (see “INSciTS Slack Workspace” in the table below).
Indeed, the great connections and ideas that may have dissipated over the logistics of travel home and physical/mental fatigue that accompanies a live conference are instead preserved and teed up for follow-on. This, in addition to recording the live sessions means that attendees can revisit content they missed in real time and that the 2020 Science of Team Science Conference is now preserved as an extensive video library.
What has your experience of planning or participating in virtual conferences been? Do you have other design guidelines – human-centered or other – to share?
For more information on:
- International Network for the Science of Team Science and its conferences, see https://www.inscits.org/
- Interdisciplinary Integration Research Careers Hub (INTEREACH), see https://www.intereach.org/
Biography: Kristine Glauber PhD is the Program Director of the Team Science Core with the Clinical and Translational Science Institute at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA. She served as Co-Chair for the 2020 Science of Team Science Conference. She serves as the Webinar Chair for the Interdisciplinary Integration Research Careers Hub (INTEREACH) Community of Practice and Co-Chairs the INTEREACH Special Interest Group of the International Network for the Science of Team Science. Her interests include design and facilitation of boundary spanning research, especially that which is restorative and equity-building for marginalized entities.
Biography: Ben Miller is a Communications Strategist with the Clinical and Translational Science Institute at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA. He was the Communications Chair for the 2020 Science of Team Science Conference and is the outgoing Chair of Marketing and Communications for the International Network for the Science of Team Science. His interests include science communication, design and collaboration in resource-constrained communities, and the interface between the humanities and the sciences.
Biography: Christine Ogilvie Hendren PhD is the Director of the Research Institute for Environment, Energy & Economics and a Professor in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, USA. Her work focuses on developing and applying methods, models and human processes to integrate and co-create knowledge across boundaries – disciplinary, sectoral, cultural, geographic – to help research teams address complex global challenges. In collaboration with other SciTS community members, she founded the INTEREACH (Interdisciplinary Integration Research Careers Hub) community of practice in 2016 and currently co-chairs the INTEREACH Special Interest Group of the International Network for the Science of Team Science. She served as Chair of the 2020 Science of Team Science conference.