Srivastava SD, Winter M, Gross LJ, Metzger JP, Baron JS, Mouquet N, Meagher T, Halpern BS & Pillar VD (2021).

Nature Ecology & Evolution doi:10.1038/s41559-021-01521-0

Key message : Scientific progress, especially in environmental sciences, has traditionally thrived on collaborative working groups that synthesize diverse data and ideas into new models. These working groups are often facilitated by synthesis centres, institutions that foster collaborative research. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these centres had to pivot to virtual meetings, which, although useful as a temporary solution, have limitations, especially in fostering creative breakthroughs. In-person sessions are more immersive and allow for continuous, intensive discussions, while virtual sessions can lead to fatigue and distraction. As the world transitions back to in-person interactions, a hybrid model combining the best of both in-person and virtual collaborations is proposed. Such a model would employ virtual collaborations for brainstorming and outreach, especially to those unable to travel, and in-person sessions for detailed work. While the core activities of working groups are best suited for face-to-face meetings, complementary virtual meetings can keep momentum and ensure inclusiveness. As the world becomes more comfortable with virtual interactions, synthesis centres need to invest in hybrid models to maximize impact and relevance.

Spatial hybrid models extend regional collaborations across geographic space. In the model shown, research teams within each geographic region meet simultaneously as in-person working groups, but these regional hubs also coordinate virtually with each other. One type of coordination is a work relay where a team in one time zone hands off a task to a team in a different time zone whose workday is just beginning. Virtual communication is also useful for outreach: connecting working groups with knowledge providers and end users of the science.

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OTHER TOPICS: Aesthetics of Biodiversity, Biodiversity & Ecosystem Functioning, Biogeography, Macroecology & Ecophylogenetics, Experimental Evolution, Functional Biogeography, Functional Rarity, Metacommunities, Metaecosystems, Reviews and Synthesis, Trophic Biogeography & Metaweb