With the rise of working from home, organizations and universities transitioning online, and even pandemics, it’s no surprise that video conferencing has become an integral part of our working lives. According to Video Conferencing Statistics, 94% of institutions claim that video conferencing has increased their productivity.Research to date demonstrates both the challenges and opportunities of remote meetings, but statistics reveal that the pendulum has swung toward the convenience and cost effectiveness of doing our work through this means. Also, our horizons have expanded, for we can now travel virtually to Nigeria, Brazil and other countries across the globe with ease. These changes have greatly impacted the way we now hold grant seminars, score grants, partner and work with our mentors. Specifically, some of the effects can be seen in:
Globalizing Accessibility: According to Susan Guthrie from RAND Europe, online platforms can help boost the diversity of review panels and widen participation. Now that the financial burden of travel is no longer a constraint, researchers from many countries are invited to participate in review panels. Meeting through video conferencing has prompted other positive changes such as globalizing our research agendas and expanding cultural diversity. It would be wrong to assume that the world of funding and grants will simply return to business as usual, for what we have seen to date is that virtual meetings have proved to be highly effective.
Panel Reviewers: The NIH polled panel reviewers about their Zoom experiences. The replies varied as to their preference of meeting face to face or reviewing grants virtually. Many voiced their discontent with video conferencing. However, it was noted that as far as scoring, there was little difference in the process. Even though this may not have been the best platform for grant reviewers, they did agree that it was cost effective and more convenient in terms of their time commitments.
Partnerships: Partnerships, innovation, inclusion and interdisciplinary may all be important outcomes of video conferencing. Although this is not a new phenomenon, Covid-19 and video meetings have demonstrated new and ongoing approaches to working outside of our own space and creating interdisciplinary spaces. The instantaneous communication of scholars in the US and abroad allows us to increasingly speak to one another globally.
Mentors and Tutors: Certain donors require that young investigators be trained via mentorship and tutoring. Prior to the accessibility of video conferencing, these researchers would not always have access to the best mentors for their needs. According to the NIH, “Finding the right research mentor is critical to a successful and enjoyable research experience.” Researchers and young investigators now have a large and even global platform through which they can select the most appropriate mentors for their needs and easily arrange meetings with all involved.
Training: Virtual training during Covid-19 has increased the participation of international attendees, who due to fiscal constraints, could not previously travel to the training sites. We at the Grant Training Center have seen a much higher percentage of international organizations and individuals enrolling in our sessions, many from developing countries. This, in turn, has shifted in our training toward emphasizing global opportunities for funding.
Donors: Feedback that emerged during the unique circumstances of Covid-19 gave foundations time to consider emphasizing diversity, equity and inclusion throughout all aspects of their organizations. For example, the Clubhouse Foundation and others are now bringing new perspectives and demographic information on diversity to their board of directors, propelling racial justice initiatives.
The pandemic has increased our reliance on video conferencing. This has altered our approach to travel, meetings, communication and decision-making. Even though we are now more physically distant from one another, it has also brought us closer together. It has allowed us to give consideration to the issues of access, partnerships, diversity, inclusion and equity. Whether this will become the most common way of communication, or whether we will return to the “way it was” is no longer a question. As a recent article in The Economist states: “In the 19th century the telegraph shrank the time needed to contact envoys. In the 20th century the jet plane shrank distance. Now digital platforms are supplanting physical presence.” Used wisely, the world of funding and grants will be all the better for it.
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