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The future of conferences: lessons from Europe's largest online geoscience conference

Gibson, Hazel; Illingworth, Sam; Buiter, Susanne


Hazel Gibson

Susanne Buiter


In the early months of 2020, as the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) swept across the globe, millions of people were required to make drastic changes to their lives to help contain the impact of the virus. Among those changes, scientific conferences of every type and size were forced to cancel or postpone in order to protect public health. Included in these was the European Geosciences Union (EGU) 2020 General Assembly, an annual conference for Earth, planetary, and space scientists, scheduled to be held in Vienna, Austria, in May 2020. After a 6-week period of changing the format to an online alternative, attendees of the newly designed EGU20: Sharing Geoscience Online took part in the first geoscience conference of its size to go fully online. This paper explores the feedback provided by participants following this experimental conference and identifies four key themes that emerged from an analysis of the following questions: what did attendees miss from a regular meeting, and to what extent did going online impact the event itself, both in terms of challenges and opportunities? The themes identified are “connecting”, “engagement”, “environment”, and “accessibility”. These themes include concepts relating to discussions of the value of informal connections and spontaneous scientific discovery during conferences, the necessity of considering the environmental cost of in-person meetings, and the opportunities for widening participation in science by investing in accessibility. The responses in these themes cover the spectrum of experiences of participants, from positive to negative, and raise important questions about what conference providers of the future will need to do to meet the needs of the scientific community in the years following this coronavirus outbreak.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 18, 2021
Online Publication Date Sep 30, 2021
Publication Date 2021
Deposit Date Jan 14, 2022
Publicly Available Date Jan 14, 2022
Journal Geoscience Communication
Publisher European Geosciences Union
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 4
Issue 3
Pages 437-451
Public URL


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