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Department of Computer Science and Technology

A faculty member here is part of a taskforce advising conference organisers on how to move their events from the real to the virtual world

Last month, Professor Srinivasan Keshav, Robert Sansom Professor of Computer Science, was asked to be part of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Presidential Task Force on Virtual Meetings.

This was formed in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 and the global travel restrictions that were put in place. The aim was to provide quick advice to conference organisers suddenly faced with moving their conferences and meetings online due to the pandemic. 

The Task Force, made up of an international team of computer science academics reacted rapidly to create a guide to best practices in running a virtual conference. The ACM community was seen as well placed to provide this guidance, as it is made up of both technology users and researchers who develop the technologies that can be used for such events. 

Having to move a conference from a geographical to a virtual venue can be a significant challenge. Successful conferences can take years of planning: booking venues, planning conference proceedings, inviting speakers, arranging networking sessions etc. are all carefully planned by a team of organisers. 

Whilst there has been a growing interest in virtual events – due to concerns about environmental sustainability and climate change, diversity and inclusion – switching from a physical to a virtual conference in a short timescale is still a daunting prospect, especially when many conference organisers haven’t attended one themselves. 

To help with this, the ACM Presidential Task Force on Virtual Meetings has produced a report, Virtual Conferences: A Guide to Best Practices, that includes advice on arranging events from small conferences of fewer than 200 participants through to events with over 1000 participants. 

The document takes real life experiences from ACM members and discusses all aspects of conference organisation from high-level planning to technology choices and the details of how to recreate plenary talks, poster sessions and workshops online, as well as fostering social interactions in a virtual environment. 

The report is still evolving with feedback from ACM members as they move to new ways of meeting, but the organisation hopes that this will serve as a comprehensive resource for understanding, organizing and running virtual conferences. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed conferences into the virtual world” explains Keshav “We’d like to keep them there even after the pandemic ends, however, to reduce our carbon footprint and make conferences more accessible. We hope that this document will help in making the transition permanent.” 

Published by Christine Georgiou on Thursday 2nd April 2020