Grassroots Vol 20 No 3 | Page 7

CONGRESS 55 21 days (initially!), with only workers who were deemed by the government as being essential workers allowed to go to work under strict conditions. Little did we know that South Africa would still be under lockdown conditions, albeit under a less stringent level, by the time of the Congress! As the Society had never held a virtual congress before, and in the absence of the Local Organising Committee who had withdrawn as they were of the opinion that a virtual congress was not a viable option, Council decided to step in and be pioneers. A small group (consisting of Council members, our Administrator, previous Administrator and Scientific Committee chairs) set about putting together, from scratch, what they hoped would prove to be a successful online congress, in only 3 months. Format The services of a digital communications provider (DigiComm Facilitation) were employed to host the Congress on Zoom ® . This service provider had access to three different Internet Service Providers between which connectivity could be switched in the event of streaming issues or errors. The provider also had a full Zoom ® account. This was required because the freeware version of Zoom ® limits the duration of continuous use of Zoom ® webinar to 40 minutes and number of attendees to 100. The Zoom ® host had full control of the Zoom ® session to be able to control access to the event and control audio and video access. The decision was taken that the virtual Congress would take the form of a Zoom webinar, where presenters were required to make a pre-recorded video of their presentation and submit these two weeks prior to the start of Congress. Early submission of the video presentations facilitated the allocation of submissions to specific sessions and quality checking of the video and audio feeds. Where required, presenters were requested to re-record their presentations, particularly if the audio quality was not good. Live Question and Answer sessions with the presenters and keynote speakers were held at the end of each session. It was decided to limit the length of each Congress session to a half-day (compared to the usual fullday event of a physical congress) for three days. Presentation time was shortened to reduce the possibility of fatigue associated with sitting in front of a computer all day. Standard presentations were limited to 10 minutes and keynote presentations to 20 minutes. A Zoom ® meeting format was used to Figure 1: The breakdown of delegate attendance (141) from around the world (Courtesy of Erica Joubert). host the one-day research-skills workshop and the Annual General Meeting of the Society. Poster presentations were hosted on the Twitter ® platform (Reshef et al., 2020), which allowed nonattendees to view the posters and participate in an online discussion. The Dryfta ® app, a congress organisation platform, which had been used for previous congresses, was retained for administrative aspects of the Congress such as registrations, payments, abstract submissions, programme schedule and presenter profiles. Liaison with the technical staff of Zoom ® and Dryfta ® enabled the integration of the two software platforms. All submissions were stored in the ‘Cloud’ on Google Drive ® to facilitate backup and ease of access for multiple people. Abstract submissions needed to be edited using HTML coding to ensure streamlined web content on Dryfta ® . A major concern of the committee was uninterrupted, high-quality internet connectivity, both for hosting the Congress and for delegate access. The cost of data in South Africa is high in comparison to other countries and coverage frequently poor in many areas. Consequently, delegates received a free 5GB data package to use for Congress. Guideline documents Because online conference attendance was a relatively new experience for many participants, there was a considerable amount of uncertainty and some reluctance amongst members to embrace the use of new technologies. Surprisingly, the platform that initially met with the most resistance was Twitter ® ! Hence much effort went into developing guidelines on how to register on the various platforms, how to convert a presentation into a video (*.mp4 format) and how to achieve the best video results. For the posters, Powerpoint ® templates were developed for a four-panel poster with an example of a poster being created on Twitter ® along with guidelines on how to use Twitter ® . Guidelines were developed for presenters, attendees, session chairs and poster presenters. Live training was held for session chairs to ensure that they would be familiar with the format and workings of each session. We ensured we had back-up chairs for each session in case the dedicated session chair lost connection etc. In order to test the various systems, several dry runs were held in the week prior to the Congress. Extensive use was made of social media posts across Facebook ® , LinkedIn ® and Twitter ® , as well as email, to disseminate information and guidelines. All documents were available on the Congress website for ease of viewing and downloading. ‘Curveballs’ Despite the dry runs prior to the Congress, the opening session experienced a major technical issue in that the videos would not play! It was the organising committee’s intention to have paid-up delegate access available from only the Dryfta ® app. This was a security consideration taken to ensure that Zoom ® links were not shared with non-delegates. However, due to rapid updates being applied frequently across all software platforms, the integration between Dryfta ® and Zoom ® failed for the playing of the videos. This necessitated emailing the Zoom ® links to delegates and restarting the session. Grassroots Vol 20 No 3 September 2020 06