CAR-ES testing new meeting practices

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the CAR-ES team held there annual meeting partial virtual. This is their experience of it.

Text: Raija Laiho and colleagues


Close up on moss covered stones and forest in background. Photo.CAR-ES held its annual meeting at NIBIO in Ås, Norway, on November 18-19, 2019. We had the regular updates concerning on-going research and extension activities – the contents and materials from the day can be found at our CAR-ES website and ResearchGate website. We further discussed, and experimented on, meeting practices.

A need for new solutions

Scheduling physical meetings for multi-national teams can be quite challenging. Times that suit all key people are hard to find, because of differences in the “annual wheels” in different countries, institutes, fields of science, career stages, etc. CAR-ES has thus far considered physical meetings instrumental for its work.

Our past experiences on virtual meetings that have been arranged between the physical ones have partly been rather negative due to problems related to the quality of the connections and different software versions. However, the tools for virtual meetings improve all the time, while the need to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions, including those of long-distance travel, is urgent. Consequently, when this past meeting was at planning stage, it was seriously questioned whether we should organize it fully virtually. Eventually, we ended up organizing a physical meeting, but not a quite classical one.

Everybody don’t have to be physically present

We tested a hybrid meeting where most of the participants travelled to the chosen venue in Norway, while some “guinea pigs” participated on distance. Some listened to presentations and participated in discussion, and others gave a virtual presentation fully or together with a colleague present in the meeting.

What was the conclusion? In a relatively small meeting within an established project where participants already know each other, like in this case, the partial virtuality worked quite well. However, our general conclusion remains that standard face-to-face meetings are needed as well, especially in the beginning of projects. For instance with Skype, which is generally available, the connections are as a rule clearly better without video, which makes pacing the discussion more challenging and the discussion is not quite as natural.

Yet, we could quite easily increase the proportion of virtual participation, to the extent the facilities of our institutes allow it. This would make scheduling easier and reduce travelling, without compromising participation.

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