Since March 2020, the PTB’s International Cooperation Group has been facing major challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The social and travel-related restrictions have led to the staff members having to transfer the project work almost completely to the virtual realm. This has not only raised many questions regarding technical implementation. A major challenge is to adapt methods of cooperation and to ensure close contact with partners.
Given the unprecedented situation, ready-made answers were not available in online tutorials and books. Instead, staff had to develop their own solutions. In response to the pandemic, PTB convened the Covid-19 Task Force, or TF for short, which is made up of PTB staff and external experts. Within the task force, the subgroup Capacity Development Online, CDO for short, was formed. Since the beginning of the pandemic, it has been working on how international cooperation can meet the challenges of virtual cooperation and has already developed many efficient solutions.
An interesting and inspiring learning journey started: The CDO group piloted new approaches, shared practical experience of what worked or did not, and provided peer advice on improvements. In this process, we realized that there is a lot which we can learn from each other: By bundling our new shared experiences, completely new formats emerged. For example, we organized more and more sophisticated virtual events, such as a multi-method digitalization conference or an interactive knowledge management event, using a variety of virtual-collaboration tools and adapted methods.
Over time, the CDO group grew into an internal support structure for the entire PTB. This gave rise to the idea of making the knowledge and experience generated available to PTB employees and other interested parties in a clear form that is flexible and easy to update. Three formats have emerged from this: the CDO Navigator, the peer-to-peer consultation and the exchange of experience.
The CDO-Navigator on the COVID-19 website of PTB has recently been made available to all interested employees, partners, experts and other interested parties. It provides information on virtual formats and methods that have proven themselves in practice and in the context of typical PTB projects. In a clear form, it contains short descriptions on the organisation and implementation of different virtual events, such as workshops, online seminars, remote evaluations or interviews. These descriptions are structured according to the degree of social interaction and the expected number of participants. The individual topics are arranged in a kind of coordinate system.
The second type of information provided by the CDO Navigator are lessons learned on topics such as how to deal with language barriers in virtual events, how to use online tools such as Jitsi or DFN or how to document online events.
The CDO Navigator sees itself as a collection of living documents that are regularly updated to reflect the latest experiences and trends. For example, a new entry was recently added on hybrid events, which are becoming increasingly common. Mainly, the CDO Navigator reflects content that comes from projects, the PTB Capacity Development Working Group, peer-to-peer consultation and collegial exchange of experience, but suggestions from the wider community are always welcome.
The aim of the CDO Navigator is to enable staff and other interested parties to build on the experiences of others by sharing knowledge. In this way, they avoid potential difficulties that may arise and the same mistakes do not happen more than once. This resource can not only save time when planning project events, but also serve as inspiration for new activities.
Feel free to send feedback and ideas for new topics or suggestions for updates to existing entries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peer-to-peer consultation on virtual collaboration
Virtual collaboration often presents staff with specific problems or raises issues that are difficult to resolve alone and for which individual consultation is necessary. The CDO group has therefore launched the concept of peer-to-peer consultation on virtual collaboration. Such a consultation is organised as a one-hour, closed meeting at which various challenges in the transition to virtual collaboration are addressed. The basis of such an event is a real challenge presented by a case owner.
Past topics were e.g. how to remotely establish contact with partners in a new cooperation project or how to manage language diversity in virtual events. The peer-to-peer consultations are designed to be attended by a small group of three to six participants so that a pre-defined consultation process in 6 steps can take place between the case-owner and the attendees. Peer-to-peer consultations are meant to deliver quick and creative answers to a specific challenge. At the same time, they contribute to honing in the virtual consulting skills, broadening perspectives and strengthening networks. You can express interest in participating in a peer-to-peer consultation here: https://www.covid19.ptb.de/digital-work/peer-to-peer-consulting.
Exchange of experiences
Another type of event run by the CDO section of the Covid-19 Task Force is the exchange of experiences, open for a broader public. This is helpful when several people have acquired new and perhaps complementary experience on the same topic and would like to share it with others. Examples of topics include how to remotely conduct evaluations or how to design hands-on laboratory trainings. Some of the results have been reflected in publications. The last exchange of experience that took place on 30.04.2021 was on using learning platforms such as Moodle.
Preserving knowledge even after the pandemic
It is still unclear how working life will be after the pandemic. However, it is foreseeable that virtual collaboration will be used much more, especially in areas of international cooperation. Thus, the products of the CDO Group can definitely be understood as forward-looking and will still have a high relevance in connection with advancing digitalisation after the pandemic.