People from more than 30 countries were supposed to gather at Signal Hill Campus in June for the 2020 international Small Islands Studies Association (ISISA) conference.
The global pandemic not only changed that plan, but also how convening will look for the unforeseeable future.
The Conference and Event Services (CES) team at Memorial has worked hard to shift its business and service offerings to meet the needs of clients that have developed as a result of COVID-19.
In the case of the ISISA conference, a partnership between the Harris Centre and ISISA, it meant a first for Memorial and CES: a 31-hour webinar.
Godfrey Baldacchino, president of ISISA, says that even though the in-person event was cancelled, they still wanted to do a virtual event.
“Thanks to John Duff and the rest of Memorial’s CES team we pulled off what would have been an impossible task to conceive, let alone operationalize, a few months ago,” said Mr. Baldacchino.
“A marathon 31-hour webinar, from early morning in the Western Pacific (Guam) to late at night in the Eastern Pacific (Cook Islands).”
Mr. Baldacchino says they were nervous because many things could go wrong and while some presenters and moderators were let down by their own internet service provider, CES helped pull off a successful event for them.
“All in all, 225 discrete persons could join in and opt out over the course of the event, picking and choosing from a rich slate of 62 presentations involving 70 scholars and practitioners from 30 different countries.”
Transitioning to online/hybrid events
Like many others, the work of the CES unit changed drastically over the course of the last several months.
Robyn Pike, CES event co-ordinator, is working on the delivery of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Oceanic Engineering Society’s Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Symposium scheduled at the end of September this year and says the re-imagining of the event from in-person to remote is well underway, but has come with challenges.
“Some of the biggest challenges of moving it online have been around the social programming,” Ms. Pike said. “Networking is an important component at events like these and coming up with ways to translate that virtually has been interesting.”
However, there are advantages as well, she says. People who can’t participate due to financial or other constraints can now access or even present at events.
Dr. Neil Bose, vice-president (research) at Memorial is working with the CES team to bring the biennial international symposium to fruition.
“As it is truly international with attendees from all time zones, we are planning an asynchronous event for delivery of the technical sessions and we are including networking sessions that will be spread around the clock,” said Dr. Bose.
“Naturally, we have our fingers crossed as to how this will all work. Conference and Event Services have been extremely innovative and supportive.”
Safe on-site events
In alignment with public health guidelines and guidelines developed by Memorial’s Environmental Health and Safety team, Conference and Event Services is beginning to offer options for onsite/hybird meetings and events in St. John’s at the Johnson Geo Centre and the Emera Innovation Exchange (EIX) on Signal Hill Campus.
However, holding on-site events means decreased capacities and a variety of other increased safety measures.
Recently, CES organized its first event post-pandemic: a meeting for local company Instrumar at the EIX. Leigh Puddester, president of Instrumar, says that working with CES was an “excellent experience.”
“We have several people who have health concerns and so we were quite conscious of the safety issues around a group gathering,” Mr. Puddester said.
“The preparation by the team at CES for our visit to the EIX was thorough and you could tell that everyone was focused on ensuring that our meeting ran efficiently, but also with proper safety protocols in place. When we arrived on-site, all the safety elements we would have expected were in place, and our meetings went off without a hitch.”
Although many events booked through CES have been postponed, some new bookings are coming in. The team is feeling confident in its ability to provide quality, innovative and safe services to clients who are looking for ways to convene amidst pandemic life whether it be onscreen, on-site or both.