Online events are more than copies of their analogue models

With Microsoft 365® and elaborate organisation, the North Westphalia Chamber of Industry and Commerce is conducting the IHK regional competition "Jugend forscht" digitally for the first time.

// Digital Transformation, Digitization, IT Technology Consulting, noventum

For 35 years, the North Westphalia Chamber of Industry and Commerce has been the organiser of the regional preliminary round of the nationwide "Jugend forscht" competition. Even in the analogue event of earlier years, the organisation of participants and jurors was demanding. This year, the organisers were faced with the challenge of providing 137 young researchers from 23 schools in the Münsterland region, divided into 7 subject groups, with a digital opportunity to take part in the competition. The Münster-based IT management consultancy noventum consulting was commissioned with the technical implementation and, together with Dr. Eckhard Göske, head of the IHK industry department, implemented the multi-day event.

Since 2020, online events are on their way to becoming the new standard

The Covid 19 pandemic forced many organisers of public events to develop concepts for digital implementation last year, including the IHK Nord Westfalen. Together with the IT Forum North Westphalia and the digital hub Münsterland, the IHK organised the IT Strategy Congress for over 500 participants. Consultants from noventum consulting also provided the concept and technical implementation.

This year, however, the "Jugend forscht" competition made completely new demands on the technical planning. The conference management, specialist groups, speakers and jurors had to be able to interact in the plenary and in small groups and according to a strict schedule. There was no audience in the sense of the public, but literally all participants were active in their respective roles. The special challenge for the technical concept was that all participants had to be included in the course of the competition with very specific rights and wishes. "We were able to implement the change of individual people from the plenary to small groups and back with breakout sessions. This is a relatively new feature in Microsoft Teams and it fitted very well into the event structure," noventum consultant Marvin Beckonert notes with satisfaction.

With "Breakout Sessions", Microsoft 365® enables digital events that are close to the analogue original

In the "Jugend forscht" competition, small groups or individual students essentially present their work to "their" jury. Discretion is paramount and there are very precise rules about who is allowed to be in which room and when - just like in the analogue competition. Afterwards, the juries deliberate "behind closed doors" while the next candidates are already in the presentation room. Throughout the day, larger circles, e.g. all jurors, meet and the day begins and ends with a plenary session. For the implementation of such a concept

  • different participant roles and authorisations as well as the corresponding communication channels are identified and established,

  • The strict conditions of a competition were observed (students had to use a webcam to document that they were alone and unaided in their room),

  • technical support for all event participants (hotline),

  • accompanied some actors in front of camera and microphone (director role),

  • technical lead-in (test) and live transmission implemented in a strictly timed manner,

  • "Studio standards" enforced from "mobile phones off! " to "everything will be fine".

About 200 participants had to be guided through the agenda (with their respective roles). "Precise timing, an overview of the progress of the individual teams, signing in and out of the right rooms ... that was a great job between technology and participant support," enthuses Kai Gräwe, who, like his noventum colleague Marvin Beckonert, was also involved in the implementation of the IT Strategy Congress 2020.

Planning and controlling the technology are the backbone of complex online events

To avoid software customisation problems from the beginning, a new Microsoft 365® environment was set up for the competition. All jury members and participants received dedicated access to this environment and the pupils received an e-mail with an access link to their appointment, their time and their subject area. The heterogeneous equipment of the participating schools with hardware (partly I-Pads) was not unproblematic for the team application and improvisation was required. Cameras and (radio) microphones, batteries and lighting were checked and set up, the playback of recorded material (e.g. videos of the presenters, sponsors) was rehearsed in advance. Each participant used their own hardware, the prerequisite was at least a current web browser or a current Microsoft 365® installation.

Further framework conditions of the "Jugend forscht" event:

  • On an extra platform, the activists were able to exchange information throughout the time.

  • In a studio room with a green screen, microphones and cameras, actors and technical support also came together physically. A corridor in the IHK building was converted for this purpose.

  • Pupils presented from home or school, sometimes simultaneously from different environments (e.g. 3 pupils/one theme/three locations).

  • Minor problems such as a weak internet line or technically weak hardware of participants were identified during the technical trial run and sometimes a quick switch to "daddy's notebook" helped.

Lessons learned - organisers need to invest in online events

noventum consultants Beckonert and Gräwe sum up their insights into the future of digital events after the successful event:

  • Digital events bring with them new roles and requirements that are not necessary for an analogue event. This applies above all to technical support.

  • The digital (self-)presentation of all participants raises the critical question of the performance in front of the camera or microphone. The analogy to the television studio with direction, camera, light and sound suggests itself. The demand for professionalism increases.

  • Companies or institutions will have to professionalise themselves with their own technical know-how or good service providers in order to have the freedom of choice in future to hold events analogue, digital or hybrid.

  • Event technicians have a new field of activity and new job profiles are emerging (digital event management).

  • Complex digital events currently still tie up considerable expertise. From an organiser's point of view, the financial advantages and disadvantages of switching from analogue to digital therefore tend to balance each other out.

  • In the case of a real public event with travel and accommodation costs, the overall economic calculation of digital events is probably positive.

"Every major online format is currently still like a premiere and has to be designed individually. This is a real challenge for the technology and in the end it is also really fun," the noventum consultants summarise their experience. "The possibilities of collaboration tools are constantly growing and we are getting better at realising our clients' wishes."

noventum consulting

Dr. Matthias Rensing


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