Open Meetings

Astronomy for Development is inherently a global idea, cutting across all geographical and most human barriers. It has been steadily gaining momentum over the past few years. With the establishment of Regional Offices across the globe, there are more stakeholders than ever before. It is now critical to stick to the bottom-up approach to include a diverse range of ideas and opinions. And to disseminate ideas, adapt to local conditions and further distribute in the region.

The OAD regularly runs fora and sessions at various regional and international levels. We recently tested if such platforms would benefit from being opened up to a global audience. The ‘Astronomy for Development’ thematic session at the recently concluded South African Science Forum 2015 was streamed via Skype to participants across the globe. Audience members, from Gabon, Kenya, South Africa, India, Italy, remotely connected to a computer in Pretoria that was broadcasting the event on the OAD Skype account. At the end of the session, these remote participants had the opportunity to engage the presenters by asking questions.

This exercise was also carried out at the inauguration of the Arab Regional Office in Jordan and the West African Regional Office in Nigeria. It allowed an extension of the meeting stage with the use of free software (Skype) and relatively low bandwidth. (audio only) We did have challenges with quality and connection, dependent on user internet speeds. But, overall, it is an easy, inexpensive method to widen reach.

We hope our experience will encourage others to open up meetings and discussions for a wider audience. Our choice of Skype was based on its widespread use but there are possibly alternate, even better, tools being used by others. And on a final note, we realize that there could be a great many ways to innovate and improve this experience. We kindly request that you publicize your own creative methods for the benefit of everyone else.

Note: We advertised the OAD Skype account on social media. It is quite possible that spam users might try to connect. We advise you to check the user profile before connecting the user to the call.

This post was written by OAD visiting fellow Ramasamy Venugopal