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Maintaining momentum for collaborative working groups in a post-pandemic world

July 13, 2021

Scientific progress depends in part on our ability to synthesize heterogeneous data and ideas into new models and paradigms. In environmental sciences, such synthesis has been particularly effective when conducted by collaborative working groups: diverse groups of researchers and practitioners brought together for a concentrated period of collaboration on key questions. Such work is often done at synthesis centres: organizations that promote, fund, organize and host working groups and other collaborative research and training activities1. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, synthesis centres have had to rapidly adapt to supporting fully virtual working groups; the eight centres we direct supported 68 virtual working groups in the past year. Based on this experience, we conclude — contrary to a recent editorial on conferences published in this journal2 — that virtual gatherings, while providing a bridge during the pandemic, cannot replace immersive, in-person collaborations. In-person working group meetings involve productive and varied interactions for many hours over consecutive days. We have found that virtual sessions lose effectiveness after a few hours, as participants become fatigued from staring at a screen or juggling local demands. While virtual meetings can work for short, well-delineated tasks, they are less suited for unstructured and free-flowing discussions — and thus struggle to create the social cohesion and trust known to fuel creative breakthroughs during week-long in-person meetings3.

Publication Year 2021
Title Maintaining momentum for collaborative working groups in a post-pandemic world
DOI 10.1038/s41559-021-01521-0
Authors Diane Srivastava, Marten Winter, Louis Gross, Jena Paul Metzger, Jill S. Baron, Nicolas Mouquet, Thomas Meagher, Ben Halpern, Valerio Pillar
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Nature Ecology and Evolution
Index ID 70224970
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center