The SEADDA COST Action was invited to present Challenges and opportunities in virtual archaeological data stewardship: Moving SEADDA COST Action online at the International Conference on Cultural Heritage and New Technologies (CHNT) 2021 (Nov. 2 – 4) in Vienna, Austria.
Holly Wright from the Archaeology Data Service in York, UK gave the presentation, which examined adapting an in-person networking project to a virtual environment due to the onset of COVID-19.
COST Actions fund and create research connections between innovators and researchers in the science and technology fields. Traditionally this is accomplished through Short-Term Scientific Missions (STSMs) workshops, training sessions, and other collaborative in-person forms of knowledge exchange.
In 2020, the SEADDA COST Action experienced challenges when two of their four Exploratory Workshops, scheduled March and April in different countries, had to be moved online due to COVID-19. The Working Group 3 Exploratory Workshop in The Hague, which was scheduled to begin on Monday, 16 March, 2020, was cancelled days before SEADDA members were due to travel, as much of Europe finally grasped the reality of the situation and shut down. The Workshop organisers scrambled to deal with chaos and cancellations, but the workshop was able to be moved quickly online, albeit in a shorter one-day format rather than the two days originally scheduled. It was difficult but the partner consensus was that it was largely successful, if not ideal.
Buoyed by this success, the organisers of the Working Group 4 Exploratory Workshop decided to go ahead as scheduled with the Exploratory Workshop scheduled in April as well, keeping the three-day format but shortening the amount of contact time each day and including longer breaks. It was already apparent by April that “Zoom fatigue” was a real phenomenon, and the concentrated form of in-person meeting or workshop SEADDA members were used to was no longer appropriate. The Working Group 4 Workshop was also successful and showed that with a little bit of time to organise, and some experience and creativity, moving these collaborative experiences online could be done effectively. It also showed potential opportunities that should be incorporated in our knowledge transfer work going forward.
The paper also discussed the opportunities, and how the SEADDA COST Action changed as members attempted to run a research and innovation network meant to be undertaken almost entirely in person. In some instances, the focus turned to more ambitious open access publications, and in the case of Working Group 1, and entire themed issue based on the outcomes of the Exploratory Workshop was published (Richards et al., 2021). In addition to the more obvious opportunities, such as greater access to a wider range of members who would not normally have their travel costs covered (International members from non-COST countries largely outside of Europe) to more subtle and unexpected opportunities, such as allowing more targeted access for knowledge exchange with people who are connected to SEADDA members, not just the members themselves. As originally envisioned, only one or two individuals from a particular institution, or even country, would be eligible for travel costs to attend a COST Action workshop or meeting.
With travel costs no longer an issue, members became extended networks, who could put forward a range of people who might benefit from the experience. Members who were eligible for SEADDA travel funding tend to be more senior researchers or practitioners and typically more involved at a policy level. At the same time, they have students or colleagues who would benefit from the more practical and technical knowledge sharing within SEADDA, but could not be included in any in-person meetings or training. The move to online working meant access could be thrown open to any person nominated by a member, which was found to be incredibly popular and useful. Suddenly, the more senior researchers were no longer conduits for knowledge transfer within SEADDA, but their students and colleagues were able to participate directly, according to their areas of interest and expertise, thereby broadening and more deeply embedding the collaboration SEADDA was meant to facilitate. Despite the sudden program changes, the outcomes of the STSMs workshops were successful. These sudden challenges created other opportunities such as focusing on open access publications. The online platform eliminated travel costs which in turn created greater accessibility for more SEADDA members and established a wider network for associated students and colleagues to participate in the meetings and trainings.
To read the extended abstract click here.
To find out more about CHNT 2021 click here.