Corra Boushel is a project coordinator at the SCU.
A recent experience with an organisation I won’t name left me disappointed, annoyed and then worried. Something I took for granted as straightforward turned out to be impossible for the other organisation to incorporate. It set me thinking: are the institutions I’ve worked at so unique? What is typical in similar organisations – universities, research centres, industry institutes etc – and what’s the norm in science-communication-land? It has repercussions for coordination between organisations, but also important ones for the environment. It reflects badly on our institutions and us individually if we fail to meet others’ expectations. In a nutshell: in 2016 am I wrong to expect we can all use Skype*?
Now when I say “we” I’m not assuming that absolutely everyone in the world has internet, or the know-how or desire to get themselves online. My dad will only skype if my mum sets it up and sits next to him, and that’s ok by him. I have worked at organisations with offices in developing countries where intermittent power supplies, crummy internet and occasional natural disasters hijacked our attempts to connect on a regular basis. But here I’m talking about professionally – between scientific, research and industry institutions – in the UK. I thought everyone did this nowadays but after my recent experience, was I wrong?
What are our technological (and environmental) standards as an industry?
I know there are plenty of situations where online calls are less satisfying or appropriate than face-to-face meetings. I sit next to researchers who are looking at the importance of gesturing in human interaction, and how robots and computer systems can’t (yet) mimic that. I think it helps enormously at the start of new projects if you can get around a table and see eye-to-eye. Large group dynamics do not translate well down ethernet cables. There are many reasons why Skype might be a lesser alternative, but to me it is also an invaluable option. Furthermore, within science communication we see online communication being used to great effect: projects like ‘I’m A Scientist Get Me Out Of Here’ just wouldn’t grab the attention of young people in the same way if the class had to all write letters; here at UWE we offer online science communication courses so that people all across the world can participate.
I’m curious to find out: What does your office or institution provide? Should video conferencing be an option – I’m not saying a requirement – as a minimum standard to save travel time, money and emissions? What are our technological (and environmental) standards as an industry? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts and experiences below – or you can email me directly corra.boushel-at-uwe.ac.uk if you’d like your comments posted anonymously.
*Other online communication software is available.