1. Introduction

The slogan ‘Yes, we can hear you loud and clear!’ (a common response in online meetings to the question ‘Can you hear me?’) echoed on 12 May 2020 across the main hall, five conference halls, over ten coffee rooms, and an art exhibition space as part of The Future of Meetings online conference.

Close to 600 participants – including diplomats, academics, business people, and civil society activists – shared expertise and broad experience, through lively and dynamic discussions.

The conference included two plenary sessions, 20 expert sessions, speed networking coffee rooms, an art exhibition, and a graduation ceremony for students of Diplo’s Online Meetings for Diplomacy and Global Governance course.

The main discussion focused on the interplay between onsite and online meetings, and the emerging form of hybrid meetings.

An optimal balance between onsite and online interactions, resulting in a hybrid approach, will positively change the future of meetings and, to a large extent, diplomacy. The conference searched for the balance formula by exploring five main aspects of the future of meetings: technology, security, moderation, behaviour, and diplomacy. In this report you can find a summary of the discussions, and links to video-recordings from the conference (identified by a video icon).

2. The six main takeaways

Plan! Prepare! Practice!

These three words summarise perfectly the organisational experience behind The Future of Meetings. When holding online events, you won’t need to spend time organising travel and conference spaces, but you do need to spend as much time – if not more – on planning, preparing, and practicing to ensure that everything runs smoothly from a technical perspective and in facilitating discussions and interactions.

Inclusion: Amplifying weak voices in policy-making through e-participation

Online meetings offer new possibilities for including quieter voices in global policy-making, that is, those who may have been left behind by the nature of traditional meetings.

Effective online inclusion is particularly relevant for small and developing countries, as well as marginalised groups that often do not participate actively in global policy-making due to a lack of human and financial resources. Moreover, the inclusion of persons with disabilities can be further strengthened through the use of platforms and solutions (e.g. captioning) that enable their participation.

Ensuring cognitive consonance: Avoid spaghetti meetings

Online meetings can increase the chances of confusion which are often present at large onsite events. Maintaining focus during parallel workshops and side events is even more challenging during online conferences since the audience is just a click away from the next e-mail, social media notification, or news update. Therefore, organisers need to make an effort to put participants in control of their online experience, and ensure they have a cognitive grasp of the event without necessarily knowing all the details.

Some things stay the same: The devil is in the detail

Even if  you may have a plan B and plan C up your sleeve, do not be surprised when you discover the many unknowns while organising your online event. Something that is trivial at onsite meetings (such as inviting people to coffee rooms) can be a major obstacle in an online setting.

The more experienced you become in organising e-meetings, the better versed you will be in addressing the unexpected. Organisers additionally require a set of skills that includes a flexible mindset to react creatively and quickly to crisis situations, and empathy for online participants while dealing with unforeseen circumstances.

The old and the new: Navigating between tradition and innovation

The interplay between change and continuity is visible during exchanges in online meetings. While diplomatic procedures will need to adapt to new online dynamics, many elements of traditional diplomatic protocol will remain relevant, such as precedence, equality, order to statements, and voting.

Priorities: Moving beyond technology

Even though our conference covered the use of e-meeting platforms, the dialogue steered clear from ‘tech-hype’ and ‘tech-naivety’ topics (only one of the five conference tracks focused specifically on technology).

This balanced approach towards technology was vital since many organisers tend to slide into discussions of less relevant issues and overlook essential issues like good moderation and understanding social, emotional, and policy contexts, which are relevant for every e-meeting.

Conference photo: Some of the participants during The Future of Technology online conference

Snapshot from the Conference’s Plenary Session

3. The conference in numbers

The geographic and stakeholder distribution of participants was very diverse. Truly international in nature, with 571 attendees from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North and South America, the event boasted the representation of 104 countries and territories, as illustrated in the map below.

With regard to stakeholder representation, the largest group (41.14%) came from governmental and international organisations, followed by the non-governmental (25.61%) and academia/research communities (13.90%), and the private sector (5.72%) and tech community (5.18%).

There were total of 1 362 room entries (participants entered more than one room), including:

Conference sessions and tracks No. of participants
Plenary sessions 364
Technology track 132
Security track 84
Moderation track 119
Behaviour track 134
Diplomacy track 152
Exhibition: Art Goes Online 144
Conference sessions and tracks No. of participants
Randomly assigned coffee rooms 64
Coffee room: Smokers’ corner 19
Coffee room: What are your post-COVID-19 holiday plans? 14
Coffee room: Resolution drafting via ‘Virtual Green Rooms’ 4
Coffee room: How do we manage properly to be socially distant in the upcoming months? 2

4. What did we discuss? A narrative report

Resilience, inclusion, and sustainability were the underlying messages in the opening remarks delivered by Mr Antonio Hodgers, president of the Republic and State of Geneva.

By adjusting to the rapid transition to online work, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international organisations have shown a high level of resilience.

Hodgers stressed that new technologies are facilitating a greater degree of inclusion in meetings, and are making a significant leap forward by allowing many actors to join the global conversation.

Sustainability and fairness can be increased through virtual meetings that reflect the real needs and expectations of citizens, communities, and countries worldwide.

Hodgers said that International Geneva is ready to contribute towards the development of the global public good of resilient, inclusive, and sustainable meetings and governance.

The WHO’s Chief Information Officer and Director of the Department of Digital Health and Innovation Mr Bernardo Mariano highlighted that preparedness is key to confronting COVID-19 and that the WHO has started this journey from the digital perspective long before the outbreak of the pandemic. In dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the health organisation had to adapt quickly to the use of new online tools for policy deliberations and activity co-ordination.

While the rapid transition to collaborating and working online did not affect the productivity of the WHO’s 8000 employees, it shed light on the new types of skills and expertise that diplomats and international civil servants should master.

Mariano added that diplomatic institutions should continue to build on the discussion held at The Future of Meetings conference so as to bring experience to the so-called ‘new normal’.

Prior to the health crisis, online meetings were often proposed as a way to reduce air-travel emissions. For example, the Swiss government decided to reduce official air travel by 30% until 2030.

As we move towards a ‘new normal’ in global diplomacy, the question of the environment and emissions is expected to regain its relevance.

In light of these developments, DiploFoundation’s Dr Stephanie Borg Psaila stressed the need for an evidence-based and balanced approach which should not only take into consideration air-travel emission, but should also look at carbon emissions from the use of technology, such as e-conferencing platforms which are intensive users of bandwidth and processing power and, in turn, energy.

New types of meetings trigger new decisions and new guidelines on inclusion, procedures, and e-participation. The current principles and guidelines need to be further developed in order to respond better to the rapid changes and demands of a wide body of users.

Important points were presented by Ms Virginia Paque, an e-participation evangelist. Her decade-long work, combined with recent inputs from diplomats, technologists, and academics during Diplo’s online meetings course, was the basis of the draft document ‘E-participation principles and guidelines 2020’. Paque outlined six important segments, and invited the international community to contribute to the next version of the draft, which will be presented to the global community at the UN’s 75th Anniversary Session, to be held in September this year.

After the plenary session, participants addressed the interplay between onsite and online meetings through five parallel discussion tracks: technology, security, moderation, behaviour, and diplomacy. Each of the sessions was led by the track lead and a discussant-moderator.

The technology behind the conference

Registered participants accessed Zoom sessions via the conference website, while YouTube and Vimeo streaming was available to all. Simultaneous sessions ran in parallel in Zoom break-out rooms, while plenary sessions were held in a main room. Another Zoom room was dedicated to the exhibition.

External services provided at the conference included voting via Mentimeter and Zoom’s polling feature. Upcoming meetings will include interpretation and translation, and other accessibility features.

Diplo’s course Online Meetings for Diplomacy and Global Governance and its learning management system contributed to the success of the conference.

The conference Help Desk staff provided real-time assistance to participants through website and Zoom chats.

Technology: Platforms | Apps

Track lead: Mr Arvin Kamberi (Lead, Online Meetings, DiploFoundation)

The technology track started with discussions of current dilemmas in choosing online meeting platforms and tools. This was followed by a discussion on tools for interactive online meetings, and two sessions on the future developments in the use of holograms, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and artificial intelligence (AI).

On choosing online meeting platforms, half of the participants pointed out that they make informed decisions by analysing the features and functionalities of the tools; one third of attendees said that they rely on recommendations provided by others. Often, they combine different platforms according to the needs and objectives of the meeting. In most cases, the choice of online platforms is made at the organisational level.

The extensive and widespread use of online meeting platforms is still a relatively recent development, and organisational policies on the selection of platforms are not yet in place.

Speaking on the frequent use of Zoom, the participants noted that it can be attributed to its easy and user-friendly interface. Well over three months into the crisis, Zoom is still a preferred platform for many.

That said, security issues associated with Zoom pushed some users to gradually shift to alternative tools such as WebEx, Microsoft Teams, and open-source platforms like Jitzi. For a comparative and comprehensive survey of online meeting platforms, consult the survey by Diplo’s Conference Tech Lab.

A wide range of online apps such as Mentimeter, Pigeonhole, and Slido, can compliment a platform’s polls, surveys, and Q&A features. These enrich online discussions and expand the range of features of online conferencing platforms.Online video animation tools, such as  GoAnimate, Powtoon, and Wideo, tap into the creative side of meetings.

The use of digital technologies in online meetings, however, does not stop with apps. Speech-to-text transcribing services powered by AI, that help expand the accessibility of the online space and facilitate inclusion, are already being used by some online platforms.

AI is equally used for ‘logistical’ tasks, including virtual assistants that help schedule meetings and automate messages, and assistance chatbots.

Other emerging technologies, including augmented and virtual reality, are already here, but are not yet used extensively in the context of online meetings. New technologies could give a new meaning to the notion of hybrid meetings in which the physical and virtual spaces merge.

Virtual reality was pioneered more than a decade ago with Second Life. Augmented reality, for its part, was brought back to life thanks to the world-popular game Pokemon Go a few years ago.

Holographic technologies are also becoming increasingly popular. Nonetheless, these emerging technologies have not yet been mainstreamed into the field of online meetings. Holograms could help defy the laws of physics and allow the same actor to be present at two places at once, and therefore attend several meetings in parallel.

This was recognised as particularly helpful for protocol meetings where presence is required. Such innovations and developments will be happening in the next phase.

While these developments could change the way meetings are organised and conducted, they also need to be carefully balanced to support innovation and inclusiveness, keeping personal privacy and data protection in mind.

Security: Privacy | Confidentiality

Track lead: Vladimir Radunovic (Director, Cybersecurity and E-diplomacy, DiploFoundation)

  • Security concerns of online meetings: Software flaws, leaks, data protection | Moderator: Ms Trishia Octaviano (Project Executive, Asia-Europe Foundation – ASEF) (link)
  • ‘Zoombombing’ and intruders: Avoiding unwanted guests | Moderator: Ms Andrijana Gavrilovic (Assistant, Digital Policy Programmes, DiploFoundation) (link)
  • The Chatham House rule in online meetings: Attribution and discretion | Moderator: Mr Andrej Skrinjaric (Co-ordinator, Online Programmes, DiploFoundation) (link)
  • Data protection and confidentiality: Who is (mis)handling records from our meetings, and how? | Moderator: Mr Vladimir Radunovic (Director, E-diplomacy and Cybersecurity, DiploFoundation) (link)

Recent issues associated with several platforms brought security into focus, and increased the public debate and overall awareness of cybersecurity aspects. At the same time, it also triggered simplified perceptions of cybersecurity risks.

The aim of the first session, therefore, was to map some of the security challenges related to online meetings and help make informed decisions about the risks on privacy, confidentiality, unauthorised access, etc.

The discussion on Zoombombing – where hackers or intruders show inappropriate materials in online meetings – looked at how the issue dominated media coverage over the past few weeks, and the fact that this cybersecurity risk is less prevalent. Participants felt they were more concerned over privacy and confidentiality than over cases of Zoombombing.

Security risks created new challenges for online meetings, exposing issues related to the reputation of organisations that organise meetings, as well as  human rights and overall political and social issues.

The discussion on confidentiality and discretion moved to the applicability of the traditional Chatham House Rule to online settings. Although 80% of the participants considered the Chatham House Rule important for discretion in  meetings, they were sceptical about its applicability online. One of the reasons is because meetings can be easily recorded by any of the participants. In addition, video, sound, and text recordings of meetings are much easier to leak than notes or recollections from traditional meetings.

On data protection, discussions showed that there is clarity on which type of data needs to be protected (recordings, content of text chat, shared screens and documents, registration data, etc). Yet, it was unclear where, how, and by whom this data should be stored and used.

The protection of data requires several measures, including: laws and regulations (national laws and other rules such as the GDPR), corporate policies (guidelines, term of use, etc.), transparency (knowing what levels of security the platform guarantees), technology that ensures protection of data (such as encryption), an open-source approach (exposing backdoors and other risks), interoperability of platforms (allowing for choice of platform), and digital hygiene.

The notion of risks associated with data came up once again. Participants expressed concern over the way their data is handled and processed by companies, and how data can fuel state surveillance. Interestingly enough, the risk associated with hackers and hacking was barely on participants’ minds.

Moderation: Planning | Executing

Track lead: Ms Natasa Perucica (Research Officer, DiploFoundation)

  • Talents and skills for effective event moderation: Recruitment and training | Moderator: Ms Priyanthi Daluwatte (Registrar, Northshore College, Sri Lanka) (link)
  • Over-prepare and be ready for surprises: Roles and scenarios in online meetings | Moderator: Ms Selly Muzammil (Regional Government Partnerships Officer, World Food Programme – WFP) (link)
  • Are we out of time? Time management tips for online moderation | Moderator: Ms Kimberly Ibrahim (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trinidad and Tobago) (link)
  • Your Plan B: Things that can go wrong and how to react | Moderator: Ms Carlos Polo (Cybersecurity Expert, Republic and Canton of Geneva) (link)

The moderation track kicked off with a survey on whether good moderators are born or bred. The majority of participants said that moderation skills can be learned, and touched upon some of the qualities that moderators should possess, illustrated below. In this process, training, coaching, and sound preparations play a vital role.

In discussing the necessary skills and qualities for effective moderation, many participants agreed that moderators should be quick on their feet and knowledgeable about the topic. Personal flexibility and adaptability were particularly relevant in the transition towards online and hybrid types of meetings.

Referring to the difficulties in online moderation, the participants noted that the lack of understanding as to what is going on in the ‘room’ (e.g. whether or not the participants are engaged, how they are reacting to the discussion, etc.) is particularly challenging. One solution to these challenges is to create engaging content and activities.

Long statements and repetitive discussions, on the other hand, spurs people to click away from the meeting. Participants agreed that a badly prepared meeting is more tiring online than in real life.

Effective moderation requires good planning and preparations. Developing scenarios and preparing a plan ahead of the meeting helps ensure that everything goes smoothly. In addition, planning helps reduce the chances of tech failures and confusion.

Nonetheless, planning and preparation should not be too pedantic or forced. A good moderator should be able gauge the dynamics in the room, and be ready to improvise on the spot. Jargon should be used with caution, to ensure clarity.

Related to time management, discussants highlighted two key aspects of effective moderation, including the availability of a detailed agenda ahead of the meeting, and the ability to intervene when a speaker goes overtime.

The role of active engagement also came up in the discussion as an essential aspect to online meetings. In order to encourage participation of the audience, ice-breakers such as polls and surveys should be used.

Behaviour: Psychology | Culture | Emotions

Track lead: Dr Tereza Horejsova (Director, Project Development, DiploFoundation)

  • Distractions: How our attention span varies between online and in situ | Moderator: Ms Ines Hfaideh (Head, Educational Programmes, Arab World Internet Institute (AWII))
  • To see and not be seen (online): The psychology of face-to-face interaction and body language | Moderator: Mr Mohamed Gawad Allam (Permanent Mission of Egypt to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Geneva)
  • Corridor chats: Have online meetings killed impromptu conversations | Moderator: Ms Charline Van Der Beek (Permanent Mission of Austria to the United Nations, Geneva)
  • E-politeness: How to handle long speeches, tech glitches, and other interruptions | Moderator: Ms Christiane Herre (Head, Leadership Development, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Switzerland)

The track started with a question to participants in the room: How many times – hands on heart – have we checked our phone since the start of the first session? Close to half  admitted they did so once or twice, even though they were only two minutes or so into the session. This insight kicked off the discussion of behavioral aspects of meetings.

Distractions are nothing new: physical presence in traditional meetings does not mean cognitive presence. Many participants of onsite meetings typically spend time browsing the net and thinking about topics unrelated to the meetings they are attending. In an online environment, this challenge is even bigger since temptations to focus on something else are higher and less socially constrained than in physical meetings where our behaviour is more visible, and is shaped by politeness and respect towards event hosts, speakers, and participants.

Meetings are much more than a simple exchange of information or a quest for solutions. They are deeply ingrained in human and social nature. In the discussion on recreating these aspects of meetings, many discussants argued for the use of video in online meetings that can simulate better human and social aspects of online encounters, including better eye contact, expressions and, sometimes, body language.

Social relevance of meetings was further reiterated in discussions on the relevance of ‘conference extras’, such as cultural events, lunches, or even coffee breaks. They facilitate testing of ideas and positions, and sensing of the overall atmosphere.

Discussants agreed that ‘conference extras’ cannot be easily replicated in the online setting for many reasons, including the risk that online exchanges are recorded in writing or video/sound, which does not apply to corridor chats and other networking events during onsite meetings.

On e-politeness, the discussants argued that online is not different from offline. One participant jokingly noted that in onsite meetings, there is unfortunately no mute button.

When asked about experiences of impoliteness in online meetings, participants noted issues that were often of technical nature (such as not muting oneself upon entry into a meeting, or the admin failing to unmute speakers). This session clearly indicated that the role of moderators to ast fast and to be ready to improvise when necessary, is essential.

Diplomacy: Protocol | Procedures | Etiquette

Track lead: Dr Katharina Hoene (Senior Lecturer, Researcher and Project Manager, DiploFoundation)

  • Seamless procedures: Is the future of diplomatic meetings a blend of online and in situ | Moderator: Ms Ursula Wynhoven (International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Representative to the United Nations, New York) (link)
  • ‘Extraordinary’ and ‘plenipotentiary’ online: Between tradition and innovation | Moderator: Mr Stefano Baldi (Ambassador, Embassy of Italy in Sofia, Bulgaria)
  • Discuss, draft, and vote: Moving diplomatic practice online? | Moderator: Ms Katharina Frey (Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations, Vienna) (link)
  • Bonjour, buenos días, guten Morgen: Translation and interpretation for the new ‘online’ diplomacy | Moderator: Mr Christopher Mcinnes (Postgraduate Student, College of Europe) (link)

Hybrid or blended meetings may emerge as the most likely choice for the future of diplomatic encounters. Blended meetings may be the optimal solution in responding to this crisis and beyond. However, they will require a lot in terms of available access, procedures, and support from the secretariats of international organisations. To illustrate, formal equality of member states should be translated into practical equality when it comes to participation in blended meetings. This shift may offer new inclusion possibilities, especially for small and developing countries that cannot afford to participate in onsite meetings due to a lack of financial and human resources.

An interesting discussion was triggered around the type of meetings that should be held onsite and online. The participants stressed that there is a need for predefined criteria to decide on this point, given that a decision whether or not a meeting will be held online can be part of the diplomatic negotiations as well. Working meetings are better candidates for online dynamics.

The more the meetings shift toward decision-making and high-level representation, the more they should be held in physical spaces.

As the first poll shows, participants of the diplomacy track felt that inclusiveness is an important point when considering online meetings. As illustrated by the current health pandemic, the shift towards online meetings in the context of diplomacy has been mainly crisis-driven. It remains to be seen how diplomacy will adjust to the ‘new normal’ of hybrid meetings. Protocol and procedures will pose certain limits in conducting online meetings and negotiations, primarily because the informality of online meetings is expected to clash with the more formal requirements of diplomatic events.

The chairperson, or moderator in diplomacy, will have a particularly important role in ensuring smooth operations of online meetings. There will be a need for more training for chairpersons in online meetings.

The session made a clear point about the need for dedicated capacity building to manage online meetings for diplomatic practice. While there is learning by doing, which is often the main modus operandi of online meetings, there is also ‘learning before doing’, in order to provide a better experience. The latter might be more appropriate for diplomatic practice.

As the second poll shows, that half of the participants felt that online meetings will require small adjustments to procedures. The other half thought that procedures for online diplomatic meetings need to be rethought entirely.

In deciding what should be done online and onsite, one needs to analyse processes around three key activities in diplomacy: drafting, negotiating, and decision-making. For example, the use of track changes in diplomatic drafting is a potential contender for going digital.

Digitalisation faces limits when it comes to recreating informal practices and informal spaces of negotiation in an online environment. This includes coffee breaks and corridor meetings in particular. Some ‘informality’ has been developed through, for example, Whatsapp groups. Thus, the diplomatic term ‘back channel’ might be given new meaning in the context of online meetings.

Multilingualism is essential for inclusion in diplomatic negotiations. The technology for providing automated transcriptions and translation for online meetings is already available. Many, though not all, big providers for online meetings offer these options. However, in some cases, the quality of automated transcription and translation is not yet acceptable and requires manual adjustments. Transcribing online meetings can contribute to the inclusion of people with disabilities.

An interesting discussion centered on the possibilities of simultaneous diplomatic drafting in several languages. Within the UN-context, most drafting is done in English. As artificial intelligence (AI) translation technology continues to develop, ‘multilingual drafting’ will emerge as one of the more complex issues.

5. Graduation gathering

Thirty-four successful participants graduated from DiploFoundation’s just-in-time course on Online Meetings for Diplomacy and Global Governance. In this highly interactive course, participants made 1134 annotations in the form of comments, questions, and views on the technology, security, moderation, behaviour, and diplomacy of online meetings. This was complemented by a series of hands-on exercises during which participants used various online meeting platforms and practical tools.

The Future of Meeting conference was the last step in learning by immersion, as many course participants assumed the leading role in moderating sessions delivered in parallel track rooms, thus putting the theory they learned during the course into practice in a live scenario.

The conference ended with a graduation ceremony, marking the end of a stimulating five-week journey through the field of online meetings. At the start of the ceremony, the course co-ordinator Ms Dragana Markovski welcomed the students and thanked them for taking an active part in the conference. Addressing the graduates, course designer and lead lecturer Dr Jovan Kurbalija shared his reflections on the process of teaching the course, and congratulated them all for becoming the first certified moderators of online meetings. The online course was just the first step in their journey of shifting various meetings from onsite to online.

Other course lecturers – Ms Virgina Paque, Dr Katharine Hoene, and Mr Arvin Kamberi – also addressed the graduates, highlighting the most important and memorable parts of the learning process in the course.

Referring to their experiences as course participants, Mr Carlos Polo from Colombia and Ms Ines Hfaiedh from Tunisia said that the skills they acquired from the course are helping them in their line of work. Ms Selly Muzammil from Indonesia said that the course was excellently designed and an eye-opener to her. Ms Sherna Alexander Benjamin from Trinidad and Tobago thanked the team who developed and ran the course, pointing out how the digital tools introduced throughout the course will be very useful in her daily job. Ms Nina Frey suggested her fellow graduates meet again in a few months’ time to share impressions after having gained more experience in organising and running online meetings. This was warmly accepted by everyone.

Markovski invited the graduates to continue making use of the course material and insights shared during the course which will remain accessible through their online class.

6. Exhibition: Art Goes Online

One of the works exhibited during Art Goes Online, by Diplo’s resident artist Viktor Mijatovic

While art has had a home in the online space for over three decades, for the first time in history due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we witness exhibition spaces from around the globe closing doors and finding ways to present artworks through web platforms, e-conferencing rooms, and social media.

The two-part art exhibition, Art Goes Online, took place in a dedicated Zoom room accessible during coffee breaks. In the spirit of adapting to online-only experiences, the exhibition took up the challenge of creating a Zoom art experience.

The first part of the exhibition included the work of Diplo’s Creative Lab from the last two months (an atmosphere of ‘creating in crisis’), and visuals and multimedia made for Diplo’s online events on COVID-19.

The second part offered visitors a ‘behind the screens’ glimpse of Diplo’s Creative Lab. It introduced the individual work of the Lab’s artists, and explored the personal styles involved in co-creating a shared experience.

The works by Prof. Vladimir Veljašević, Mr Viktor Mijatović, and Mr Srđan Ivković encapsulated their individual artist statements, and opened a window to how they approach their creative process. The exhibition drew lessons from the African proverb ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’.

Veljašević finds inspiration in ‘minimalist tendencies in painting and print’, while Mijatović ‘expands classical graphic techniques through the language of pop and street art’. Ivković, on the other hand, appreciates ‘the rhythm, speed and flow in animation, as well clear and understandable ideas’.

Together, these two segments build one whole, which shows the diversity, importance, and richness of both personal and collaborative expression within a creative team, and as an experiment with the format itself in a time of shifting formats.

Both parts of the exhibition were well-attended by conference participants, in numbers that could easily qualify for a real-life gallery show opening.

Work from the Creative Lab

7. The online Coffee Lounge

Taking inspiration and capturing the vibe from onsite events, The Future of Meetings conference allowed participants to meet other attendees during coffee breaks in the conference’s Coffee Lounge, and engage in two types of activities.

The first was speed-networking in coffee rooms,  where participants were randomly assigned to ‘virtual tables’, i.e., Zoom breakout rooms. The participants had 15 minutes to chat over coffee during the break. It was completely up to them to decide on the topic they wished to discuss.

The second involved joining coffee rooms for thematic chats. Prior to the conference, participants were invited to propose topics they wished to discuss during coffee breaks; during the conference they could join any of the proposed rooms.

8. Our next steps and how to get involved

The deliberations conducted during The Future of Meetings conference reinforced Diplo’s holistic approach to blended meetings from the various perspectives of technology, security, moderation, behaviour, and diplomacy.

After receiving valuable feedback from the conference participants (refer to Annex), and based on the discussions and take-aways from the conference, Diplo has now entered the second stage of conceputalising and implementing follow-up activities. Here is what to expect in the coming months.

  • Conversation and research

    Following requests from several participants to address inclusiveness in greater depth, one of our next meetings will be dedicated to the participation of persons with disabilities, in particular those with visual and hearing impairments. In the coming months, we will research this topic further. Do you have an experience to share? Send us your suggestions, at diplo@diplomacy.edu

    In addition to inclusiveness, we plan to include multilingualism in online meetings, and move beyond the current focus on English. These will include real-time interpretations, as well as the translation of transcripts. Other technological, security, moderation, behavioural, and diplomatic aspects will be covered in policy debates ahead of us. Stay tuned for updates at www.diplomacy.edu/events and www.diplomacy.edu/blog

  • Training and capacity development 

    If you missed out on the first course on Online Meetings for Diplomacy and Global Governance, you can join one of the forthcoming courses (more info will be available on the course page). For customised courses for your organisations, contact us at diplo@diplomacy.edu

  • Resources from Diplo’s Conference Tech Lab

    Diplo’s Conference Tech Lab provides a one-stop shop for research and reflections on the future of meetings. In particular, you can find an overview of online meeting platforms and apps. Visit the Conference Tech Lab’s resources.

  • Draft Principles and Guidelines on the Future of Meetings

    As the way we meet, discuss, and negotiate continues to change, there is an increasing need for principles and guidelines to navigate this major transition in diplomacy and global governance. The current version of the draft principles and guidelines is the basis for discussion and the next version that should be presented at the UN’s 75th Anniversary Session, to be held in September this year. To join the drafting team, or to make suggestions, e-mail us at diplo@diplomacy.edu

  • Development of a Help Desk 

    The shift from offline to online requires us to adopt new methods of working online, and of developing hybrid ways of interacting. While some have managed to adapt quickly, others need assistance in selecting the right approaches and tools. Diplo plans to address this need through a Help Desk, with the aim of offering tailored and practical support to a range of actors. For more details on how to support this initiative, contact Diplo’s Conference Tech Lab at diplo@diplomacy.edu

  • Development of an online meeting platform

    Experience has shown us that the existing online meeting platforms do not address all the needs required for future diplomatic meetings. Public meetings, which are and should remain a public good, face the risk of becoming the property of private companies that provide conferencing services. The current proprietary and open-source solutions therefore lack certain technical and custom functions, such as voting and drafting features, and the storing of confidential data (e.g. recordings and transcripts of text chat), which raises questions about usability, trust, and security.

    A new open-source online meeting platform could tackle these limitations by allowing for customisable integration of features that correspond to the needs of specific organisations. Such a project should allow all actors to access functionalities developed by other users, and to maintain control over data generated through online meetings.

    Diplo will initiate a brainstorming and discussion process with potential partners for the development of an open-source meeting platform. For more information on how to join this initiative, write to us at  diplo@diplomacy.edu.

About the conference organisers

The event was organised by DiploFoundation and the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP). Diplo has been a pioneer of online meetings, training, and diplomacy for more than two decades. Diplo focuses on sustainable innovation by integrating the latest tech developments into the long tradition and practice of diplomacy, international law, and humanities.

You can find more information about DiploFoundation’s  academic courses, the humAInism project, publications and research, on Diplo’s website, at www.diplomacy.edu.

The GIP anchors digital debates in the experience and expertise of International Geneva, one of the most dynamic international governance spaces. The GIP hosts Digital Watch, the most comprehensive observatory of Internet and digital governance.

Diplo and GIP activities in the field of future meetings are supported by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, and the State and Republic of Geneva.

9. Annex: Feedback from the conference participants

The following list summarises the feedback received from course participants. Feedback will be reviewed and will serve as the building blocks for the next phases in Diplo’s work on the future of meetings. The organisers are appreciative to all the participants who provided comments and suggestions.

  • We are responsibly getting ready for better online meetings in the future. Thanks.
  • Inspiration and food for thought.
  • Inspiration and exhaustion.
  • Good experience with coffee breaks! If only we could get coffee really. :)
  • Not enough time to engage deeper into the discussions.
  • Interesting experience from others.
  • New experience.
  • I appreciate the opportunity and encouragement by Diplo for students to participate in the conference and play a role. Thank you! Lots of good topics too and perspectives shared!
  • Enlightening, clarifying, and informative.
  • We need safe spaces for experiments like this.
  • How virtual meetings can be organized. Even with coffee breaks!
  • Thanks Diplo for facilitating this event. Really an eye-opener to the potential of e-meeting.
  • Informative and engaging.
  • Blended (online+physical) meetings will bring inclusiveness.
  • Exhibition was very interesting – we need to embed it to real conferences more.
  • Good summary of the issues.
  • Short sessions helped keep me focused, but it was challenging going between sessions as we had to go back to the website and click the right session to join.
  • Very good preparation. Well planned schedule is crucial, polls are good icebreakers, always dress properly ;-) and use a camera.
  • Conference was short. :) We need longer sessions.
  • Sad to have missed the art exhibition.
  • Will online diplomacy lead to different foreign policy outcomes? This is a question for the researchers in the conference.
  • Showed best practices by example.
  • This needs to be continued.
  • Organization it’s essential for a conference. It was great to see an overview of the conference and all the logistics in the same webpage.
  • Transitioning from face2face to online platforms will need creativity, will, and adjustment. Yet it is necessary, and maybe beneficial.
  • Good learning experience.
  • Great experience! Great learning from everyone all over the world!
  • Complete lack of accessibility for persons with disabilities. The Conference TechLab comparison of video conference platforms does not take accessibility into account, and unfortunately it is not ensured in DiploFoundations’ virtual meetings either.
  • I loved the format of the online meeting. It was not tedious.
  • More info on the apps and tools to use in meetings.
  • Too short to get warm with the concept, each other, and the moderator.
  • Very interesting and enriching experience. Thank you.
  • Great sessions. Looking forward to more great courses in the future.
  • 15 minutes definitely were not enough to cover all the subjects. However, it was useful. Thank you!
  • Very informative.
  • To have a great e-conference you need a great e-team. Congratulations!
  • I did not enjoy tracks being broken up in 15-minute sessions (during which I tried to switch between tracks). I imagine this is hard to handle for most, but certainly for those with cognitive impairments. Extremely hectic and tiring.
  • Thank you very much! Very interactive session and great take aways. Honest conversation about what we already know but also don’t know yet. Merci bcp!
  • Understanding technology tools can greatly benefit us in the future.
  • Fantastic experience – though of course nothing can replace real life human interaction.
  • The moderators were professional.
  • More time.
  • It’s a new normal, will need some adjustment here and there, but it’s for the better.
  • It is possible – technology can enhance future meetings of a similar nature happen.
  • Great experience of multifaceted e-meeting, very informative and insightful. Helpful being able to sit on both sides of the virtual conference table as participant and moderator.
  • How technology is transforming our lives.
  • Engaging audiences online is an aspect that should be written and researched.
  • Finding ways to enhance social interaction online and building connectivity.