Ask the Trustees
I’m assuming you attended all your 2020 conferences, advisory councils, and application review meetings online as so many functions have migrated to the virtual world this year.
What is Donaghue thinking about when it will go back to its in-person review and advisory meetings — if at all?
This is an important question for us, as it is for many organizations. We’re certainly thinking about what to do and seeking advice from our advisers and colleagues.
For the time being we will continue to operate online. Although we love our office, the conference room is Example No. 1 of where not to be in the time of an airborne infectious disease pandemic. The airflow isn’t great and there’s no access to open windows. So we will wait until we get the “all clear” signal from the CDC before we consider inviting our advisers to gather around our table for a four or five hour meeting.
But when we do get that signal — do we stay online or go back to in-person meetings? We’re weighing the pros and cons.
The largest advantage of meeting in person is the undeniable connection that occurs among all participants when everyone is present in the same room. The conversation seems more spontaneous and flows a little freer when you have better access to all those non-verbal cues. Sure, video meetings have some of that, but it is to a much smaller degree. Sometimes you can’t even see everyone who is present on the screen at the same time. Meeting in-person allows for that informal chatting that occurs during the lunch break or when people are entering the office and settling into their place around the table. These conversations provide such rich background to who everyone is and sparks a sense of collegiality that makes the work more rewarding. Some of our advisers travel on the day before meeting, and we enjoy the opportunity to have dinner with them after they arrive. It’s another opportunity for everyone to get to know each other better.
On the other hand, you can’t beat the convenience of online meetings. Our reviewers have demanding careers with busy schedules, so not having to spend time traveling is helpful for them. And for Donaghue, there’s no travel expenses to pay. Plus, we may be able to recruit reviewers who would otherwise not be able to attend the meeting if they had to spend time traveling to get there. And we know some funders who are considering their responsibility for climate change when crafting meeting policies.
At this point, we don’t have a clear path to what our decision will be. We might consider a hybrid model where we let the reviewers decide if they want to travel to an in-person meeting or attend online. Maybe we will flip back and forth from year to year between in-person and online to get the best of both worlds over time. But one thing we know is that it will be a while before we need to make a decision which will give us plenty of time to consider our options and confer with our reviewers about their preferences.