“Sharing Knowledge for Resilient, Sustainable and Prosperous Islands Worldwide” -Island Innovation –
In simple terms, the Virtual Island Summit 2019 is an initiative to connect people using technology without harming the environment. It was organized by Island Innovation in collaboration with the organization of the Eastern Caribbean States. Island Innovation is a consultancy and advisory firm offering specialized services across various economic sectors. Their purpose is to bring together the private sector, government, NGOs and academia to advance innovation for sustainability in island communities worldwide.
The summit took place in the virtual world which means that presenters and attendees only need connectivity to the web and a device to connect to the web, be it a desktop or laptop computer, tablet or Smartphone. This first edition of the zero-carbon summit maximized opportunities for participation and minimized harmful greenhouse gas emissions by eliminating the use of aircraft and car rentals for the event. It also facilitated the sharing of diverse viewpoints. Speakers and attendees were from several island communities including the Arctic, Caribbean, Europe, Indian Ocean, Pasic Island, South America, as well as other places of the world like Canada and the U.S.
Having this as an online event has a great impact by not contributing to air pollution but it is also cost-saving for all attendees who even though it was a free event, would have incurred travel costs. Even the networking method surpassed expectations. The organizers prepared an app that facilitated event information but also the contact information of the speakers and attendees which made it easier to enforce collaboration because usually during network events you have a certain amount of time to connect and discuss business. Human contact will always have value but in certain circumstances, we should be able to embrace new alternatives, especially for small islands where mobility, by sea or air travel, is expensive and/or challenging.
I don’t know if you realize how great this is for those who usually aren’t able to participate because of the high travel costs involved. It is a testimony that technology can indeed maximize knowledge sharing to everyone interested. This online event was free and had many attendees that initially registered, actually attending and participating. One of the arguments against free events that usually hear from organizers is that people won’t value it because they didn’t spend money on it.
For this event, what I think makes it successful is that they had a “more or less” solid program with interesting speakers and support from interesting partners. Having interesting speakers and partners make the promotion easier. The website had solid content placed a few months before the event and what I think helped is the constant reminders they send via email. They were prepared in a professional way and the receiver was addressed in such a way that it made you feel that the organizers were serious about the content and value your participation. And in addition, they arrange for some interesting giveaways.
A CASE STUDY
This event can be used as a case study on how to do it effectively. In general, the reason why most free events fail is that the organizers:
– don’t have an initial program;
– don’t promote it in a way that people see the value in attending or don’t promote it timely;
– don’t send timely effective reminders (most people don’t pay much attention to simple text emails anymore);
– send last-minute requirements;
– don’t have anything of value to engage the people with (if there is a chance for you to win a concert ticket, an iPod, book or anything you value I’m sure you would make sure to attend, I would).
The information shared during this event is essential because it serves as evidence for case studies for several Islands and countries that are striving to reach certain Sustainable Development Goals but don’t have the sufficient knowledge and means to do so. The summit covered all 17 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in some way or the other, in addition to other topics pertinent to the island communities.
If other organizations could adapt this model just to imagine the actual impact it could make, more specifically for environmental organizations. Coming together is important but as we have seen there are other ways to do this that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Now, this event, in particular, used “Zoom” for the webinars.
Zoom is a video, audio and web conferencing tool. It allows people to meet virtually from their location, and participate in a meeting, class or working session, for the summit the organizers used the webinar format. Up to 6 presenters were designated to present per session with the option to share both slides and video simultaneously. The attendees were able to listen and use interactive features such as li8ve polling, Q&A, and the chatbox. In addition, the sessions were live-streamed on Facebook. You see, you don’t have to attend the main event personally; you can follow it online and interact with speakers and other attendees.
WHAT MADE THIS EXPERIENCE GREAT?
– Knowing the program and the key speakers beforehand; this gave us an idea of the content to expect and helps to decide which session to attend.
– Knowing the platform that will be used. The presentations were done via the Zoom webinar platform which gives you to option to follow the presentations through your laptop, tablet or phone. The organizers provided a user guide beforehand which made it easier for me to navigate the platform. Like it’s customary you always have those people who don’t bother to prepare and end up asking questions which answers are provided in the guide. If they could just bother to read it. It’s great to see that the organizers were kind enough to answer all these questions. For attendees not to know how things work is expected in some way but for the speakers not to know how to navigate the platform was kind of annoying because it takes time away from the programmed presentation.
– Receiving reminders on the app and via email. I appreciated this because it helped me organize my time and provided the possibility to still register and attend sessions I wasn’t sure I would have the opportunity to attend.
– Connecting with Academics and Professionals through the event provided the opportunity to start talking about action plans. If it was a face to face network meeting you would probably have to wait a few days because you have limited time to connect during the event with as many people as you can. In most cases, the additional wait is because of jetlag. During this summit, the attendees didn’t have this issue and were able to connect at any time through social media or phone calls.
WAS IT PERFECT?
Since it’s the first summit of its kind there were a few setbacks with the timing of the presentations and the quality of the internet connectivity.
The presentations were timed on the platform which makes it automatically shut down at the set time. In some cases, speakers had to quickly wrap up or were not able to answer the questions live.
There were some speakers in countries where internet connectivity was not “smooth”. I’m not sure if it was the specific building they were in that didn’t have a good internet connection or if it was the whole infrastructure that was not the best.
Maybe if there was a way to rehearse with the speakers before the summit, it would help in some way to ensure the quality of the connections and ensure they know how to navigate the platform.
AN INSIGHTFUL EXPERIENCE
Overall, this has been an insightful experience and an example that there are alternatives to connect and include people in the conversation. And most importantly because of its nature it has positively reduced additions of greenhouse gases that increase air pollution.
It is possible to directly include the general public into the conversation while academics and experts are debating on topics. Sharing knowledge and experiences helps others understand where we stand, and why we stand the way we stand.
For us, it means understanding that there are alternatives and options but that these alternatives and options may have consequences for our island nations. Learning from other nation’s experiences will help us best adapt the alternatives and options to the best interest of our communities.
Should we see more virtual summits and conferences in the future? What do you think?
For more information about Island Innovation and the summit visit the website islandinnovation.co