Meeting report: Researcher to Reader

Researcher to Reader (R2R) normally takes place in London towards the end of February, which means that the 2020 meeting was my last in-person event before the pandemic overtook everything. Like pretty much all our other events since then, R2R 2021 took place online only, but for 2022, the Conference Chair, Mark Carden, was determined to run it as a wholly hybrid experience. As a member of the Advisory Board (which has both a governance and an organisational brief) this was both a thrilling and nerve-wracking prospect.

What this meant in practice was a huge amount of preparation – adapting where we could to enable more people than ever before to have a fully interactive experience. Critical decisions included identifying a high functioning online platform to enable networking, commenting, breakouts and participation in the workshops (which are a key feature of R2R’s programme every year). We used OnAir and Spatial Chat and a team of tech supporters to ensure not only a smooth-running conference during its actual running, but also to enable a suite of recordings so that the various sessions can be re-viewed into the future. Of course, as well as enabling a good online experience, the in-person delegates also needed to be included in the functionality.

In practice this meant that the programme focus switched from the keynotes and individual presentations of previous years, to include more panels – with a wide range of panellists from different countries, stakeholder groups and career stages.

I attended in person and, like everyone I met during the two days, was both delighted to see other people but also slightly apprehensive about how it was going to go. Perhaps the venue – the British Medical Association House – helped, given its reassuring professional ambience?

In terms of the programme, we started proceedings with a multi-platform icebreaker – which worked for everyone, wherever they physically were. We then had a panel about Early Career Researchers – with contributors from Malaya, China, the USA and the UK. We then plunged into the first of the three scheduled Workshop sessions – where all the delegates divide out into one of six breakout groups to pursue small-group discussions about particular topics. Each of these is led by two or three experts, with the aim of reporting back to the Plenary at the end of the conference. This year, Workshop options included several Open Access questions, and a range of accessibility issues.

Lightning Talks were held during all the lunchtime and afternoon breaks and were my personal purview. We managed to run 22 talks of ten minutes each in duration. Each session ran with both a moderator and a producer (the latter running the slides and checking the online experience quality). All the sessions were entirely hybrid and, if I say so myself, contained extremely interesting content. A few highlights include:

  • IOP Publishing’s peer review training programme (Thomas Sharpe)
  • Conference outputs publishing (Lena Stoll, Morressier)
  • Open Access book business modelling (Martin Eve)

Ideas about scholarly censorship – how they differ between researchers and publishers (George Cooper).

In the meantime, the plenary sessions were revealing – on both professional and personal levels. Kamran Naim was confined to his home office due to a COVID diagnosis, but managed to inform us all on some of the implications and underlying troubling assumptions about Open Access. (Look up the other details about the original Tragedy of the Commons article, published in 1968.)

The Annual Great Debate Topic – ‘Resolved: The world would be a better place if research funders, rather than reader and libraries, bore the cost of scholarly publishing’ – hosted by Rick Anderson was its usual fiery experience (spoiler alert – the current of opinion was profoundly changed by the debate, from against to pro over the course of the event).

In short, all the delegates were delighted that this meeting was starting to reverse the whole remote meeting dynamic, although there was also recognition that in-person was raising health and safety concerns, as well as additional procedural requirements, due both to the venue’s protocols, as well as the general venue requirements.

At the same time, the meeting’s organisers had worked extremely hard to retain the silver lining benefits that remote attendance has brought us. With the reduction of in-person meetings, researchers in the Global South are increasingly enabled to attend a range of conference on equitable footing. This is too valuable a benefit to global scholarly communications events to ignore, so future events do need to include these contributors in order to ensure truly global coverage of key developments in the field.

It is early days, but I hope this is the start of a new trajectory of meetings. I want there to be universal access, and thoughtful, interactive participation among scholarly communications meetings attendees. R2R is continuing to constitute a steep learning curve for the meeting organisers, but we need to be pushed, we need to be striving to keep improving and enlarging upon our communities.

Finally, I welcome EASE members’ responses to this article. Please do let me know what you think and what you need for the future. Interchanges of ideas, and increases in capabilities are critical to growing our ability to integrate, and advocate for, enlargements in accessibility, and interactivity for contributors. How can we best interact with the R2R community? What is our coordinated sentiment?

We’re living in a time of unprecedented disruptions. How can EASE support our members’ voices?
We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Written by: Fiona Murphy