Oceans observing – from silos to ecosystem

This is the first of two blogs about how we co-designed a space for 80 stakeholders involved in ocean observation across Europe to share thinking about how to develop a more integrated observing system. Here we share our design challenge and how a webinar kick-started the discussions.

Sea picture

Wondrous and beautiful, our oceans dominate Earth’s natural systems.  Like countless others I was captivated by David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2 series on BBC television.  I was enthralled, but also dismayed at the scale of the impacts of human behaviour on the oceans and the life within them. David shares a central message of the series as he wishes good luck to a tiny leather back turtle on its way to the sea.   “Everyone of us may think we live a long way from the oceans, but we don’t.  What we actually do here has direct effect on the oceans.  What the oceans do then reflects back on us.  It is one world and in the first time in the history of humanity … one species has the future in the palm of its hands”.

So when asked to facilitate a gathering of ocean observers in March, of course I jumped at the chance.

From silos to ecosystem

Everything we know about our vast and complex oceans is provided by ocean observations and marine research – end-to-end systems which supply essential data and analyses to a range of users to further our understanding about the oceans, and to meet society’s needs.

There’s a problem though. Current ocean observing systems in Europe exist in silos, with  observations carried out by a multitude of actors at national, regional and pan-European levels.  Measurements are taken for various purposes, over disrupted time scales, and to different standards.

Leading European providers of oceanographic and marine data recognise that a different approach is needed to meet 21st century economic, social and environmental needs. They’re envisioning a single and connected European Ocean Observing System (EOOS), that will allow all users and implementers of ocean observations to find the information and help they need.  Instead of silos, their envisaged framework is an ecosystem approach to the management of Europe’s marine resources as a fundamental requirement for sustainable Blue Growth.

With support building across the ocean observing community, the EOOS team wanted to bring together a cross-section of stakeholders in ocean observations across Europe.  The EOOS Forum 2018 would be a place for ocean science managers, researchers, policymakers and private companies to share ideas and perspectives on critical questions for the strategy, and to continue to build momentum for an integrated system.

Our design challenge

Here was our challenge – how to best engage the thinking, ideas and energy of 80 people, so that they’d learn about and contribute to shaping EOOS – and come up with coherent outputs to feed into the strategy and implementation plan.  And do this all in one day!

It was clear to us that a business-as-usual type of meeting wouldn’t work. A core principle for EOOS is to engage providers and users across disciplinary and sectoral boundaries – as an ecosystem. The Forum would need do the same. Taking the idea of an ecosystem, our design principle was to give maximum time to interaction between participants, right from the start.

‘Sneak preview’ – a lunch-time webinar

This started with a lunch-time webinar just over a week before the Forum. 29 people joined to hear three short, punchy presentations designed to share essential information about the need for EOOS and open up questions about funding and sustainability.

Many of those online contributed comments and questions via the text box on the platform, which was moderated by a senior member of the EOOS team. A link to the webinar on the EOOS website meant that those who missed it could listen before coming to the Forum. Here’s what it looked like to those online!

This was my first full online facilitation of a webinar using Adobe Connect. We had our own little ecosystem for the webinar – the platform itself, me as the main facilitator, Pete providing technical support, three excellent speakers, our EOOS colleagues as content moderators. Here are some top tips from this successful session for others thinking about doing the same:

  • Always have a technical support person to handle people not connecting, voice issues etc
  • Webinars take a lot of preparation, scripting the event itself, confirming roles and doing ‘dress rehearsals’
  • It’s essential to do a technical practice/ dress reheasal with each speaker
  • Split roles – tech support, online facilitator, note-taker, content moderators who pick up the quesions
  • Using the chat (text) box for questions and comments when there are a large number of people online is a great way to increase participation.

In the next blog you’ll hear about what we did and how we did it. What we can tell you is that there was an amazing energy all throughout the day, intense discussion, no end of networking – and concrete results to shape what happens next to make the vision of an integrated European ocean observing system a reality.

Please get in touch if you’d like to include a webinar as part of your next event, or if you’d like a bespoke training on online facilitation. 

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