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From in-person to online: Successes from the first virtual Focus Week

By: Claire Stirm & Nayiri Mullinix

"The SGCI Focus Week was invaluable for discovering approaches to project sustainability. As a result of this sustainability workshop, I came away with a newfound understanding of the value of our project that I can clearly communicate to our target community and stakeholders. The Focus Week experts made me think critically about our project and provided excellent insights and advice. With the help of the experts and other attendees, I was able to articulate the importance and uniqueness of our project in a simple, straightforward way."

Transforming Gateway Focus Week into a virtual experience presented a unique opportunity to participate in what’s typically an in-person, five-day workshop. Thirteen teams, a total of thirty-two full workshop participants, joined in from November 30-December 8, 2020 for the freshly redesigned experience. 

Focus Week instructors Juliana Casavan and Nancy Maron led workshop participants through a series of sustainability lessons designed for science gateway projects. Teams met with instructors for four 90-minute exercise sessions each week. The instructors walked teams through exercises such as Napkin Drawing, Value Proposition, Budgeting and Goal Setting, and more. Each week, teams joined several group feedback sessions where they could share supportive feedback to other participants. While this didn’t replace the immersive experience of the in-person offering, it provided an effective way to connect and receive advice. 

Going virtual also allowed us to make partial attendance an option for participants that were interested in selecting sessions a la carte. An additional twenty-five partial attendees joined several of the sessions, the most popular session being Competition & Environment. Another first was to offer the Sales & Marketing session as part of the SGCI webinar series, opening it up to others in the SGCI community. 

As is a tradition for Focus Week, the final session was focused not on teaching but on hearing from all the teams. Ten teams were able to present their culminating pitch decks to the cohort. One attendee shared that the transition they saw in their own team was a magic moment coming out of the workshop, stating in the anonymous survey,  “We had a few magic moments, but what I'm proudest of is iterating on our napkin drawing over two weeks. We went from phoning it in on day one when we used an existing diagram, to nailing it during our pitch on the last day with an analogy that really helped the audience understand what we were doing. Through this exercise, our team really came together and honed the message and purpose that will serve our project far into the future.”

Dr. Leah Levay, Expedition Project Manager and Staff Scientist at the International Ocean Discovery Program, Texas A&M University, had this to say when reflecting on the virtual Focus Week, "The SGCI Focus Week was invaluable for discovering approaches to project sustainability. As a result of this sustainability workshop, I came away with a newfound understanding of the value of our project that I can clearly communicate to our target community and stakeholders. The Focus Week experts made me think critically about our project and provided excellent insights and advice. With the help of the experts and other attendees, I was able to articulate the importance and uniqueness of our project in a simple, straightforward way. Our project was not as established as the other projects represented at this workshop, but I think it has been extremely useful to begin sustainability activities early on in our project so that we can plan what steps to take over the next two to three years. Overall, the online format of this Focus Week worked very well and I appreciate all of the efforts that SGCI and the experts put into making this a success.”

Following the workshop, participants were invited back to a hands-on usability session on January 12, 2021. Led by Focus Week instructor and usability consulting lead Dr. Paul Parsons, the cohort learned a simple usability exercise they could conduct to collect user experience feedback. Participants also received an invitation to learn about cybersecurity via a presentation that’s available to all on YouTube

Miss out on the virtual Focus Week? Fear not! 

After seeing much success in 2020, we are offering another “Jumpstart Your Sustainability Plan” mini-course March 1-3, 2021. The condensed version of Focus Week is focused solely on offering practical and effective steps for developing a sustainability strategy. Register by February 24! We also plan to offer another virtual Focus Week in 2021. Sign up for our newsletter to stay updated on upcoming opportunities. 

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