Online dissemination and knowledge exchange with urban living labs is information sharing and getting feedback with relevant stakeholders to hone the other tools developed within the projects and to ensure that the findings of the project reach a broad audience and can be put into practical use, especially by city planning authorities.
Key Words: audience, outreach, targeting, dissemination, feedback, community building, experts, multipliers, web seminars, urban living labs
Online knowledge exchange has shown its advantage during the COVID-19 pandemic. TRANS-UBRAN-EU-CHINA WP5 has organized 6 EU-China Experts Online Workshops in 2020. Where this tool has been well tested. As a result online workshops have earned positive feedbacks from stakeholders of TRANS-Urban Living Labs. The result of test proved this tool is effective and can be used in the movement of socially integrative cities specific on collaborative urban planning and design and social-cultural development and social capital.
It is said that ‘Knowing is half the battle’ – in this case it is both halves, but there are two relevant categories of knowledge: ‘Knowledge that we have’ and ‘knowledge that others have.’ The task of online urban living labs is to make sure that the knowledge that we have can be supplemented by the insights of stakeholders and can be fine-tuned in such a way that it is guaranteed to be useful to them. The task of online dissemination and exploitation is to spread knowledge and getting feedback about the findings of the project beyond those directly involved so that it can take wings and be implemented in cities in Europe and China. Online dissemination is a freely available means of amplifying project results so that they can escape the confines of the academic community and get third-party opinions. Whether we are speaking of cost benefit analysis or integrative urban planning, this project is developing essential tools for city officials, and therefore it is essential that city officials come to hear of them and understand their application.
Online dissemination, as opposed to traditional live events, is virtually cost free (with the exception of the cost of a subscription to a web-meeting hosting application and the person-hours required). It creates opportunities for people all around the world to access the event without leaving their homes, increasing the likelihood of high and diverse attendance. The ease of access is not only useful for increasing audience size, but also for attracting speakers. It also makes documentation of the event in the form of live recording easier and more rapidly manageable.
Online events are less conducive to lively discussion, chance encounters and networking, all of the healthy side-effects of in-person meetings. They are less characterised by a general air of conviviality and less likely to result in lasting bonds and corridors of information exchange between participants. Also because of the lack of preparation necessary on the side of participants, the ratio of registration to participation tends to be lower than that for in-person events. The threshold to join an online event in terms of technical demand is higher than live in-person activity which can easily to eliminate the participation to those stakeholders who has less access to or are unfamiliar with digital devices.
We conducted webinars and urban living labs with participants from a range of disciplines and from across the world, including cities in Europe, China and the Middle East. For example, the Urban Living Lab on ‘How to make urban renewal socially integrative? – experiences and challenges of planning and implementation in China and Europe’ on 19 October 2020 brought together experts from Norway, Dresden, Ghent, Lisbon, Wuhan, Huazhong, and Arizona to discuss and give feedback on project tools. The web seminar ‘Social cost/benefit analysis, how does it work?’ registered over 150 participants to hear from Trans-Urban-EU-China project partners, and representatives of cities involved in other EU-funded projects for a fruitful discussion of social cost/benefit analysis tools. This diverse and expansive experience taught us a number of key things that others wishing to replicate our experience could benefit from:
The preparation stage is key. When planning your event it is good to include a range of speakers besides project partners, as external speakers will enliven the conversation, allow for the cross-pollination of ideas, and attract a broader audience thanks to the dissemination efforts of these extra-project participants among their own networks. Speakers should be confirmed well in advance of events, and should be chosen on the basis of their complementarity with the theme of the online dissemination event. The publicization of the event should begin early, but become more intense in the two weeks leading up to the event, as those that sign up for online events within two weeks of the final date are consistently far more likely to actually participate than those who sign up three or four weeks before it takes place. When communicating about the event, choose a compelling image to compliment the description, and in the description be concise and immediately make it clear what will be the contents of the event and the concrete benefits for attendees. Also, be careful which hosting platform you opt for – accessibility to various hosting platforms is not the same in Europe and other parts of the world like China. If you want international participation, considering the time at which you hold your webinar is essential – it must be at a time that is reasonable for participation not just in the hosting time-zone.
Operationalisation is certainly important too. To keep people’s attention during online events, it is essential that presentations are not too long – they cannot be nearly as long as their real-life equivalents. We found that we were able to maintain attendees’ participation with interventions of between five and 20 minutes, and also had much success with an interview format replacing standard slide-based presentations. Presentations should be regularly punctuated with the opportunity for participants to engage and ask questions or make their own contributions.
You can foster different levels of engagement with different approaches. For example, when discussing potentially sensitive topics, create a private registration and promise participants that the content of the discussion will not be recorded.
After the event, you can disseminate the dissemination – distil the main points of the conversation into a short document that can be sent to attendees but also to interested parties that did not attend the session, for example those who registered but did not attend. It can also be a good idea to record the session and place it online. This can be a handy reference tool for people, but does not generally garner much traffic compared to the live event.
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Anthony Colclough, Arianna Americo, Yu Wang