October meetup: #WeMissiPRES Wrap Up

The '#WeMissiPRES' Behind the Scenes Wrap Up for AusPreserves' October Monthly Meet Up was hosted by Andrea Goethals, Digital Preservation Manager, National Library of New Zealand.
No need to panic! Empty Tissue & Toilet Paper Supermarket Shelves - late March 2020

The event was a first attempt to improve engagement and accessibility with the inclusion of closed captioning, unfortunately thwarted by technical insufficiencies (Zoom perms say no). Not to be deterred #AusPreserves will continue to seek to improve accessibility.

Andrea opened this October Meet Up with a Maori language acknowledgement to country and greeting, then took us through the 'Behind the Scenes' comms, between the iPRES Organising Committee Members. This threw me back to thinking about the early stages of 2020, BC (Before Covid). It was a reflection we might all identify with - how we all experienced events, uniquely and together, at the same or similar time, as the world began to shut down. A bit of a slow motion shattering of anything ‘normal’. 

As with other events large and small, at that early stage, it was looking like iPRES 2020 would not go ahead in any form, indeed, that it might be “a Digital Preservation Dead Year”. With time and perspective assisting, thinking was quickly adapting to the new realities and, quoting Barbara Sierman’s blog post from May 2020, Andrea revealed it was increasingly unclear to many, as Barbara wrote “… why the conferences are not more creative in finding alternatives…?” It was a disappointment similarly spreading out over social media and within the Digital Preservation community. 

We now know at the time William, Marcel, Andrea et al, were hatching a plan.

Months passed before the public confirmation was released advising that iPRES Beijing 2020 would not proceed, a necessary step, permitting the alternative of nothing to replace it or something else. It was the opportunity and open window through which the (Friends) group climbed with their plan. 

This hadn’t happened before. A first decision to make was to simplify. “This was not a conference”, not even an “unconference”. The 'Friends of iPRES' Group, threw around a few proposals settling on “We Miss iPRES” to an endorsing cheer from an already keen community.

adjusted Slide from Andrea's presentation

Challenges abounded...

What normally might take more than a year needed to condense into roughly 3 months, it would be a scramble to the end. What helped? The early setting of realistic expectations and achievable outcomes being key. Diverting resourcing that might normally go towards the logistics of a big international “location” conference and channeling them into delivery via a digital format and platform. Not necessarily easier though different. Other enormously resource heavy undertakings could be modified to suit the digital only format. Decisions to streamline abstract and remove peer review requirement were simple enough to make due to the shortened time frame and physical location logistical concerns such as sourcing travelling locations, tours, catering and hotels became unnecessary.

The “Friends” further identified existing resources skills and networks they could leverage. 
Existing community digital fora, list servs and web portals ensured messaging was direct and timely.

The existing draft program was streamlined into 3 Streams over 3 days
  • Picking up the threads of 2019
  • Best of 2020
  • Digital Preservation in 2021
Every speaker was allotted the same amount of time with the call for papers thematically open to the presenter to self-nominate.

A major success was the curation of the program into Time Zones with the same 3 themes to STREAM over 3 days. Aimed for the now Geo-diverse as well as area-of-interest diverse community the decision was ticking several levels of accessibility.  Andrea’s “Program at a Glance” design adaptation visualised and defined themes or streams by colour coding, with world map time zones, into columns identification key, ingenuity itself.

‘good to remember’  

Andrea emphasised that this all took place within a 3 month timeline from July – September. Whilst it was an energising and purposeful experience in a time of crisis, it was delivered to an un-unsustainable timeline and level of commitment. Any revisit “hybrid” conferencing planning into the future would need to accommodate this reality. 

Adjust slide from Andrea's presentation

What additionally helped? 

Existing digital tools such as 'Zoom', 'Slack' and 'WhatsApp' kept communications timely if not improved in some ways. Indeed the pandemic lead availability and ramping up of certain digital tools helped ensure technical successes that might not have been possible prior. By the time of #WeMissiPRES delivery the community and presenters, in the majority, were all relatively experienced users having had to adapt to these tools ahead in their homes/workplaces. Platform quirks (sometimes entertaining ones) were not viewed as a failure point, but a learning opportunity. 

Friends Of iPRES Committee Members (Zoom screen grab) - Andrea's presentation

What to Keep?

Like all great Archivists Andrea preserved the “artefacts” the 'Friends' created for re-use, reference, reporting, future modelling and continuous improvement.

The Plan outlined the Communications and Text for the planning of the Programs + Context for Event

The Program at a Glance - permitting at a glance orientation to day/time zone/theme/stream

Instructions for Streaming, "Zooming", digital learning for future hybrid co-ordinations, all the stats, evaluations, and reports will be invaluable for future benchmarking. Videos and recordings – created a self generated resource bank for continued accessibility and ideal content for future harvesting. (link is included below in my notes for Carey Garvie's Reflections)

The Roles emerged as Chair, coChair and Technician gave confidence, structure and a calm assurance to the session presenters and viewers alike allowing them to concentrate on their presentation.

The positive vibe, not a conference as we know it, along with the expectation of a relatively informal format meant everyone arrived open to the new experience or just happy to be there.

The technical platforms actually worked! 

Why were we surprised? Leading naturally to a call for potential hybrid versions into the future. The October Meet Up audience expressing endorsement in the 'Chat' enthused on the possible. What might be necessary to deliver a viable hybrid format will be an area for more discussion going forward, for future conference planning. Whilst acknowledging as per the chat references below, and my own attendee behaviour, that following the 'Chat' was highly entertaining as well as a bit distracting.

Andrea highlighted from the participation statistics that not all in the community did or could participate, with attendance from distinct geo-locations being relatively low. Could this be due to the lack of access to the right digital tools, or local priorities determining participation? It remains as an area for specific examination going forward.
#WeMissiPRES attendance Stats

As ever technical and/or pandemic related issues can bedevil any delivery and did cut into the next sessions play time run of the “Countdown to #WeMissiPRES” video. 

Reflections on #WeMissiPRES

Sadly, Betsy Earl, State Library of Victoria, unavoidably, could not present this time. The earlier technical delays meant the “Pop questions” to our audience session were transitioned into the 'Chat' and I’ve compiled an overview at the end of this blog for interest. 

Andrea then threw us to Carey Garvie, Digital Archives, Innovation and Research, National Archives of Australia. Carey took us to the close with her reflections.
Carey Garvie (with gelato backdrop) - still from recorded video

I don’t know about anyone else but Carey’s colourful spiral background was amazing and I was instantly thinking about the beach and melting pistachio gelato. (Sigh!)  Slightly distracted on how much I missed walking barefoot in sand (from, what was still at the time, hard lockdown #2 in Melbourne), I had to quickly shake myself back to blog notes mode. 

Carey had a "great time" at #WeMissiPRES, Zoom being the platform of choice/ease with YouTube a close second and backup go-to for revisions then and now. Carey began by congratulating the organising committee for taking on such a mammoth commitment and pulling it off so well. It was simply “excellent”, the best qualities of iPRES as an inclusive, supporting community, maintaining connection at what was an isolating and tough time. 

Attending day 1 and 3 Carey found the time zoning worked really well, and, except for "falling asleep" at the end of a last session (it was past bedtime by then), was glued. 

The Streams were a familiar and easy to follow element. As Carey later noted, the presentations had a natural connection and “flow” to them. The NAA's current focus is on software and database preservation with Carey noting how key presentations were therefore highly relevant to that work and its goals. The bonus to the experience in the digital format are the recordings, posted for revisiting and review as valuable resources to share with colleagues, as well as the ability to continue researching them at leisure. To paraphrase Carey’s presentation highlights, these included Geert Lovink’s session ("Geert’s Memes are always funny") and Somaya Langley’s DP integration with Digitisation as being in line with those professional interests. 
“I learnt heaps” was Carey’s emphatic declaration, and the impression of a community reinforced was what I gleaned from her response. 

That Digital Preservation was a “Team Sport” resonated and throughout the event there was the strong spirit of organisational collaboration. The digital format as well permitted a more direct access to follow up with and connect with speakers after their talks. [Blog Author note: Perhaps online is a less confronting way to do so?] The flip side of all this accessibility and excitement being, Carey added, that it could mean missing the start of another presentation. However, knowing it was possible to pick up a recording later was another plus informing Carey’s segue into,

...what was, different? 

Well, no jet lag, for starters, a huge positive, and no traveler logistics to navigate, no high costs, so much easier to attend, whilst recognising that there were still difficulties for attendance. Including personal challenges to participating from the 'home office' were the typical work related hurdles for getting support to attend. The virtual was perhaps as complex to justify and communicate to managers and the wider organisation. This contrasted with the surprise of spying a colleague delivering in a presentation in another session (each not knowing they would be there). Perhaps understandably a sign of the times or possibly and/or (my observation) it is simply the case that our various organisation’s have comms already in the #ItsComplex realm? 

Provisioning the virtual as part of the standard offering received an emphatic YES from Carey whilst echoing Andrea’s earlier thoughts on regional participation constraints (also reflected upon in the chat notes below). Dwindling budgets being one of the several perpetual barriers to attendance, in addition to the tyranny of distance case for us in the Southern Hemisphere, “it is rare a big one [iPRES] comes our way” Carey sighed. Here, here, I thought. 

Gaining support to attend is always the challenge for the southern hemisphere locations, in Carey’s organisation as with my own to make a case to attend at all requires presenting at the conference with no guarantee of approval. This Carey emphasised was why she loved the YouTube live streaming so much - for the, 'almost like being there', accessibility. 

Carey did not take in the social components (also commented upon in chat below) but would do so next time after experiencing break-out zoom rooms and virtual huddles at work recently. Surprisingly "fun" and a great way to meet up with individuals you may be unlikely to for various reasons. 

Carey’s reflections mirrored many of mine own and perhaps yours too; the format was relaxed, welcoming and flexible. Technical quirks were utterly fine and part of the charm as we all learnt to roll with the doing it apart but together scenario. The tip being it didn’t need to be too polished, or more than it was, it felt and was open and inclusive. 

Significant sightings from the 'Chat room':

Louise Curham – Charles Sturt University, offered experienced insight as a presenter, something alluded to by Carey, that it had some positives and challenges. (Perhaps due to audience needing time to “percolate”, between presentations?) 
[Lousie presented] “…at #wemissipres …with Lynn Loo about using ‘letters to the future’ as a means of preservation.” [Jaye asked how Louise found the “engagement” as a presenter in the virtual format] “… presenting at #weMissipres was intriguing. In my session, the chat was super active with Somaya and Ryan’s excellent opening presentation. It had cooled by the time it got to Lynn and I but I found that quite hard to give my full attention to the speakers that followed. Not much engagement at the time with ours but often these ideas need to percolate first. …From my perspective, it was really quite extraordinary to be in the same virtual room as people from literally every continent

Louise’s thoughts and insights in chat warrant further exploration as the idea of the hybrid format builds momentum …e.g.: Louise noted “on participation? in a panel for a 5-8 min talk; general impression: the chat was the most dynamic aspect to our session; highlight: that indigenising technology matters all round the world, that was intriguing for me; do differently: hmmm, hard to balance chat and live. Maybe mandatory closed captioning so everyone is equally understandably, I’m not very good at accessing that on Zoom; learn - as per highlight above; similar to live: I’ve never been myself but my ‘stand-in’ Laura Hindmarsh was there on my behalf in 2016, from what she described it was quite similar; social: didn’t join in, I don’t know people well enough to do that in Zoom; future virtual: it would be good to have the hyper local that is physical eg a physical meet-up in CBR that sends a ‘message’ or a sort to ‘team’ presentation from specific ‘huddles’.

Gene Melzack: reflected on attendance barriers: “I think that point might be behind the lack of engagement from Africa and South America? No funding to attend these conferences in person means no experience of their value, no being plugged into their networks, and just not having them on the radar?

Hybrid conferencing going forward seems a less formidable, out in the wild as a proof of concept, reality after 2020. The pandemic enforced adaptation and experimentation upon us all with economic and socially altering effects, why not in the conferencing sphere? 

Further observations in chat noted broadcasting as an option. The added complexity to and for committee resources, skills, budget and cost acknowledged. Cost recovery options, it was noted by Dave Allen (SLQ), can be explored and Dave could provide breakdowns from an exercise to hire a broadcast team for an event. 

Sincere apologies on my tardiness in writing this post, “Tenille Hands (she/her)” and anyone else looking forward to reading about this "#WeMissiPRES Wrap Up".

I think the vibe is, Wow, you not only did it Friends of iPRES, you nailed it and made the future look really exciting.

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