RDA's 20th Plenary - Lessons Learned

You are here

05 May 2023 646 reads

Back to 20th Plenary

Research Data Alliance 20th Plenary Meeting Lessons Learned 
21-23 March 2023, Gothenburg, Sweden and Online

For the first time, after collecting attendees' feedback the RDA Secretariat decided to share the survey results with the community. Plenary meetings are important events, and we were eager to hear your opinion and feedback. The survey results were carefully processed and discussed, and we put it into a lesson learned document to be considered for the planning of future Plenary meetings.  

Lessons learned report summarises the RDA’s 20th Plenary Meeting (RDA P20) attendee feedback collected via the end of conference survey. Feedback will be used by RDA plenary organisers to identify successes, as well as decisions, considerations and actions to improve future plenaries. Feedback detailed herein was collected anonymously and has been randomly selected  to include positive and negative experiences of attendees. 

1. Event platform ‘Whova’ overview

RDA has used the Whova event platform for 3 plenaries to date and the community is somewhat familiar with it. In terms of the 20th Plenary meeting, 92% of attendees engaged with Whova at least by creating an account and logging in. Overall, 57 communication topics were created by attendees (and 10 by the RDA plenary organisers) and some exceeded 200 messages and 239 virtual meet-ups were organised by attendees.

Decision(s): Whova is a cost effective event platform that satisfies (almost) all the RDA’s plenary requirements. 

Consideration(s): The Secretariat is familiar with Whova as a platform and Whova are investing in improvements and features that may benefit future plenaries.

Action(s): To use Whova for future Plenaries. 

2. Logistics

2.1. Registration

Some speakers had planned to attend the plenary (in-person or virtually) only for 90 minutes to present during a plenary or a breakout session. We received feedback that one-day registration tickets would be preferable to accommodate those needs.

Feedback: ‘As someone who could not attend all sessions/days due to time zones it would be nice to have a single day registration fee. I know conference pricing is really hard so thanks to the team for working this all out for the community!’

2.2. Engaging Low and Lower Middle Income Countries (LMICs)

 The RDA offers reduced LMIC plenary registration rates for Low and Lower Middle Income Countries. Upper Middle Income countries are not included. Feedback suggested the alteration of in-person and virtual registration fees could help the RDA to be more inclusive of global attendees.

 Feedback: ‘Europe-heavy attendance: can participants from richer countries donate an additional fee (or parts of it) to people from poor countries?’

Reducing virtual registration fees; could help researchers from all countries to get on board.’

‘Please consider significantly lowering the virtual registration fee.’

Decision(s): Check World Bank categories in advance and decide if it is valuable to include all categories (i.e. UMIC, LMIC, etc.). 


The introduction of one-day registration tickets is not cost-effective since the RDA’s invoicing effort increases for managing tickets that generate less income.

It may prove complicated, laborious and time-consuming to manage one-day registration tickets via the web platform.

Action(s): Continue to proceed with the current registration tickets and consider adding UMIC (if applicable).

2.3. Adding physical rooms for attendee use

During the plenary, seven enquiries were received requesting the use of rooms for private networking. If plenary venues have extra rooms, perhaps, we can consider offering them.

Feedback: ‘I would like to see spaces to meet people outside the session time.’

Decision(s): The RDA Secretariat relies and uses data (to allocate sessions in physical rooms) listed by each session submitter in a session form. Session submitters are asked to provide estimated room size during a call for session. 

Consideration(s): Physical rooms allocation is a complex process and it is difficult to find a Plenary venue with a minimum of 5 physical rooms sizing over 60 people each. It will always be very difficult to predict attendees' interest for each session or collect data in advance. Hence, some room issues arise. 

Action(s): Provide clearer details to session chairs on room capacity and what impact it might have during the call for sessions. Identify what sessions have the biggest interest and re-allocate them where possible. 

3. Planning and staffing

RDA’s 20th Plenary was a first hybrid plenary primarily organised by the RDA Secretariat. The hybrid Plenary included two elements in-person and onsite and therefore, organising two parts of the hybrid plenary added additional challenges, workload, and time. RDA Plenaries are usually organised by a handful of staff from the RDA Secretariat and keeping that in mind, additional funds were secured and staff was invited to help in planning. P20 organising staff included:

1. Overseeing and coordinating all P20 planning and logistical steps:

  • 1 x a contracted member of the Digital Curation Centre at the University of Edinburgh

  • 2 x the RDA Secretariat members

  • 5 x members from the RDA regionals (Europe, UK, Australia, US)

2. Coordination of co-located events planning and managing the event platform Whova.

  • 1 x Digital Event coordinator was hired on a temporary, seven weeks basis

3. Handling registration and venue coordination (including social events):

  • 3 x Local event management agency MeetX

4. Venue, catering, sponsorship selection and coordination:

  • 5 x Local hosts who kindly helped with many logistical preparation

5. Session chairs support and delivery:

  • 13 x Local volunteers who dedicated their time to a smooth run of hybrid sessions

6. A photographer who volunteered to take photos of the RDA P20.

Decision(s): Digital Event Coordinator for on-line component is essential as event platform requires time to be built including regular materials upload, attendee support and communication, and managing hybrid sessions on the day. 

Plenary coordinator shadow person to be identified for future plenaries as a back-up and someone who is aware of every planning step.

Volunteers were an important part of the P20 delivery. Although selection, coordination and training take a big part of the planning, it was sufficient to have staff to support sessions.

Consideration(s):  We should consider having a digital event coordinator and should be contracted at least 2.5 months in advance; session support volunteers and a plenary coordinator shadow are to be considered in the future.  

Action(s): Identify a scale of upcoming planning tasks and number of resources available, so the workload is manageable. 

4. Co-located events

13 co-located events were organised a day before and a day after the main 20th Plenary meeting. Numerous plenary host organisations, RDA organisational members and RDA affiliates opted to hold their own meetings for full or half-day events. 10 co-located events were scheduled in a hybrid format where remote participants were able to join and 3 fully in-person events. The RDA Secretariat was coordinating logistical planning of events and communicating with the venues. For the satellite event on 20 March, the team issued a feedback form.  The feedback was overall positive. In a post workshop survey, 32 out of 55 voters indicated they appreciated exclusive use of slido to take audience questions, both virtual and in-person as it felt inclusive. It was heavily recommended however that there should be a separate screen for slido code. Clapping the chairs was also well appreciated, 34 out of 55 voters said it was a good approach. However there was some confusion as to why the event was not included in the Whova programme too. 

Feedback: ’The possibility and support provided for co-located events was excellent.’

Decision(s): Scheduling co-located events as a part of the RDA P20 was a great opportunity for organisations to benefit from. Global audience managed to meet in-person, network with each other, and exchange knowledge.  

Consideration(s): Organising 13 events including the 20th Plenary involved a huge amount of extra coordination and effort from the RDA Secretariat. RDA Secretariat did not have enough resources to manage all logistics of co-located events and an additional member of staff was hired.  

Action(s): RDA Secretariat will provide every effort to facilitate co-located events only if all logistical tasks are undertaken by host organisations.

5. Poster session

Poster session was not planned for the 20th Plenary meeting, however some feedback with suggestions and concerns was received. The RDA has organised poster sessions in the previous plenaries both virtually and physically. However, there are advantages and disadvantages for both attendees and organisers.

Feedback: ‘I found the posters quite informative during the recent plenaries, with lots of interesting projects and initiatives. I would recommend keeping it and it would make me physically attend RDA.’

‘A real full poster session would probably be useful for more discussions and networking.’

‘I have not seen any good hybrid poster sessions so far, I think they should be either virtual (Gather.Town is great for that) or in person.’

‘I missed a poster session. Posters are alway good to exchange and start dialogues.’

Decision(s): Identify and explore the value of organising a poster session at the next Plenary and determine possible arrangements for poster sessions conducted in-person, online or both. 

Consideration(s): Poster sessions are an effective way to present work, network & connect with an audience, particularly during in-person plenaries. However, they require a high amount of planning, preparation and resources for the RDA Secretariat to manage. 

Action(s): To undertake a cost-benefit analysis of organising a poster session at the next hybrid plenary, and to decide whether to organise one or explore alternative options for presenting work, networking and connecting attendees. 

4. Plenary programme 

20th Plenary meeting included a rich programme of RDA’s breakout sessions, Plenary sessions, networking and social events for both online and in-person audiences. The programme was scheduled based on the RDA’s groups session submissions and included 53 sessions in total of which there were 7 Plenary meetings, 46 breakout sessions. The RDA Secretariat is pleased to share that no session cancellation requests during the 20th Plenary meeting were received. Although all effort was made to create a well-balanced programme, more consideration needs to be addressed towards focusing on networking sessions.  


Feedback: ‘More breakouts, less plenaries.’

‘Add more in-person options like breakouts.’

More discussions.’

‘Would be nice to have a "mix and mingle" session with representatives of the different fields.’

Breakouts that are less presentation and more discussion.’



Decision(s): Mix breakout and plenary sessions to increase dynamism and attendee engagement. 

Consideration(s): Plenary and breakout session programmes can be very packed with a theory and presentation and sometimes leave no room for a discussion. 90 minutes of a session runs very quickly and a programme should have a healthy balance between the presentation and audience engagements. 

Action(s): Focus on providing a diverse programme to allow more time for interaction and discussion during future plenaries

5. Networking

Plenaries have always been a place to meet old colleagues and make new connections. Networking sessions are organised to exchange information and ideas with a common profession or special interest, outside the informal social setting. Feedback from virtual attendees highlighted absence of  interactive networking activities for those online. 

Feedback: ‘There wasn't enough time to explore networking options.’

‘I found it really hard to network onsite as many people already knew each other and created their own groups. I was by myself a lot.’

Online attendance had less interactive activities, but understandable since it was 1/3 total attendance.’

‘Would be great to have more structured online networking meetings as part of the program’. 

‘Opportunity for online networking could have been embedded into the program.’

‘I found it very difficult to do networking in virtual format.

Questions from online viewers were ignored in favour of on-site.’ (online)

Whova's community boards were very useful to connect participants.’ (online)

‘The conversation in the Whova platform was very lively.’

‘I set up a virtual networking event as I was surprised these hadn't been setup in the programme.’

‘As a virtual attendee I did not feel much included.’

Decision(s): To organise and include virtual networking sessions within the plenary programme to provide a similar experience for those in-person and online.

Consideration(s): Virtual all-in-one event management platform has many functionalities to engage both audiences - online and in-person and should be considered for future plenaries.

Action(s): Aim to implement a networking strategy that involves online attendees.

6. Newcomers

New members often join the RDA and they attend plenaries for the first time. Newcomers know little about the organisation, have very little connections with people in the RDA and therefore, require support. The majority of survey respondents were newcomers attending the 20th Plenary for the first time. With no official session dedicated to welcoming newcomers included in the plenary  programme, they felt lost. 


Feedback: ‘We had a lot of newcomers this year compared to the previous year….’
‘It would be great to have social gatherings for newcomers as they don’t know other attendees and might be nervous.’
‘I have the impression that the "Newcomers' session" that used to exist, could be of use.’
‘An "RDA for beginners" would be helpful, I felt at times lost.’



Decision(s): Focus on creating and adding sessions for newcomers. 

Consideration(s): There will always be newcomers, hence, they should receive additional support and a special welcome during plenaries.

Action(s): Add newcomers sessions to the plenary programme for in-person and virtual attendees.

7. Pathways

The Plenary Pathways are a navigation aid for the plenary attendees who feel a bit overwhelmed by the programme with its many parallel sessions. They were created to summarise what sessions represent under one title and help to select a session of interest.


What is it?’

’Do not know what it was.’

What are the Plenary Pathways?’

’I never found/understood them, sorry’

’As a relative newcomer these aren't forefront in my mind at all’

’I tried figuring out what they were and how to use them but couldn't

Too difficult to understand’

’I didn't find the description of the pathways clear.’

Too much info crammed into one document’

’The layout of the pathway page was indecipherable, and no times or locations were included.’

Decision(s): Majority of respondents did not know what pathways were, where to locate them, found very confusing & difficult to use. 

Consideration(s): Pathways creation is time-consuming and a difficult task, it is a shame that pathways are either ignored or not used by attendees. 

Action(s): Provide more clarification on pathways. Include pathways in a promo campaign as early as possible (once the draft programme is published). Create a slider, include in various guides, attendees’ communication, so it is visible. 

8. Other feedback

We received other feedback and would like to share it with you.

‘Continue to have staff that are very good.’

‘Hybrid/virtual conference was extremely well organised on the technical level.’

RDA is doing an excellent job in community building.’

‘The room WIFI and sound facilities in Gothenburg were amazing! I have never experienced a similar performance!! People in the room could simply speak and it was clearly understandable for online participantes and vice versa.’

Access to session recordings is very useful -- please continue to provide these!’

‘Very well organized. Irina was süper as well as the local organizers.’

Thanks Hilary, Sverker and the RDA team for another brilliant event!’

‘I think the organisation of this hybrid event was excellent (I was in Sweden but some of my colleagues were remote - they said "it felt like I was there"). So hats off!’

9. Carbon Footprint (a note from organisers)

RDA Plenaries organisers are conscious of what impact their events have on the environment. The team came together to discuss what sustainable steps they can take to reduce carbon footprint when organising the 20th plenary meetings. So far plenary organisers moved to:


Paper badges

Digital programme

Planting trees

On-line facilitation

Sustainable local food & minimum waste 

Available water top-up stations

Accessible and well-connected venues

Suggestions on alternative transportation to airplanes, i.e. trains etc.


Decision(s): Plenary organisers focus on finding ways on how to sustainably run the events.

Consideration(s): Some attendees raised concerns about plenary sustainability and how we reduce the environmental impact. 

Action(s): Focus on what we can do to lower the carbon footprint of plenaries as much as possible. Provide advice to attendees on how they can help individually (e.g. modes of transport) 


10. COVID-19 (a note from organisers)

While there were no restrictions in Sweden for events, as in most countries across the globe. A handful of people directly reported contracting COVID during / after the 20th Plenary and some say there could have been up to 50 people! The safety of the plenary attendees and staff are our priority. The text below is simple (from GA4GH April 2023) and useful and the RDA Secretariat is considering using something along these lines for future events:

Health and safety priorities for the event attendees:

  • Do not attend in person if you develop cold- or flu-like symptoms, or test positive for Covid-19 or another communicable disease. You may switch to virtual participation. 
  • Wearing a face mask is not required, though event supports masking.
  • Free rapid Covid tests will be available at the reception desk throughout the event.

Decision(s): No specific plans were put in place during the P20 as the world is open for usual business and there are no restrictions in place. 

Consideration(s): Covid is still present and the plenary organisers are committed to the health and safety of all attendees.

Action(s): Put in place additional precautions to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission at future plenaries.