Meetings in hybrid format

There are new challenges and problems for international conferences and workshops because of the corona crisis. In order to adapt to the new situation, the MFO has introduced new hygiene measures to make a research stay at Oberwolfach as safe as possible. Concerning international travel restrictions and quarantine rules, please have a look at our general measures concerning the corona crisis.

In accordance with the gradual opening of restrictions in Germany due to the corona crisis, since end of June 2020 the MFO is allowed to host research groups again. The allowed total capacity in person at the MFO is smaller than in former times and depends on current developments. At the moment (August 2021), the international rate of vaccinated people is increasing and the pandemic development is weaker than in last winter. Thus, travel and meeting restrictions have been reduced in many countries now. 

Future format of meetings: Although the precise further development of the pandemic remains uncertain with regard to new mutants, we are optimistic that we can progressively move back to our traditional workshop format with emphasis on participation in person during 2022. As initially there will still be invitees who cannot travel due to government restrictions or for strong personal reasons we will retain a small hybrid component of the workshop so that organizers can issue invitations to a restricted number of selected online participants who had to decline the original invitation to the MFO due to the Pandemic. 




Participation and capacity

At the moment (July 2020), the recommended capacity (in person) is 40 guest researchers at the MFO, which as an example can be realized in practice with 30 persons coming as workshop participants (or two times 15 in case of two parallel workshops of half size) and 10 persons in our long-term research programs (i.e. Research in Pairs, Oberwolfach Leibniz Fellows and Oberwolfach Research Fellows).

In agreement with the workshop organizers, in the current situation the MFO can realize workshops in a hybrid format (mixed personal/online) now: For the invited participants of a workshop who cannot come in person, the MFO will provide modern video conferencing tools (Zoom) such that they can actively attend the lectures in the large lecture hall as well as discussion sessions that the organizers and other participants initiate. Remote talks given by online participants are also possible. 

Thus a hybrid workshop can be realized with 15-30 participants in person and 10-20 online participants, for example. The new format does not intend to open the workshop online to the general public. As usual for Oberwolfach workshops, the organizers select and suggest international experts in the field who are personally invited by the institute's director. All talks and lectures are restricted to the invited participants and are not authorized for outside users. The mathematical community is informed about the content of all talks in our Oberwolfach Reports which are available open access as pdf on the wokshop's web site about 3 months after a workshop.

Participation in person or online

Currently we ask invited participants some weeks prior to a workshop if they are able to attend the workshop in person or if they wish for online participation. Access information will be sent to the registered online participants in the week prior to the workshop.

Because of ongoing international travel restrictions, in particular for participants coming to the MFO from outside Europe, it was decided to change the deadline for a response to the invitation from 9 months to 6 months in order to give participants more flexibility.

Please inform us prior to the deadline via our electronic registration system on your principal willingness to attend the workshop in person.

As travel restrictions can change quickly, we will ask all invitees about 4 weeks prior to the workshop, who will be able to come in person and who can only attend online. About 2 weeks later we will send out a list of participants (in person and online) and additional information. Those who can only attend online will be informed on the zoom contact information about 1 week prior to the workshop.

The video conference tools can transmit the talks of the speakers (blackboards, including a tablet screen or slides, if these are shown during the talk) and a picture from the audience. In turn, the connected online participants are shown on a screen in the lecture hall such that an active participation in a discussion session is possible.

Optional recording of talks

If the speaker agrees, it is possible to record a talk such that online participants in a different time zone can see the talk later. If all participants agree, it is also possible to record the discussion after a talk. The copyright on the recorded talk (not on the following discussion!) belongs to the respective speaker. The video recordings may be viewed by the registered participants of the workshop. Publication of the videos or transmission to third parties is not permitted. In order to protect the speakers and their copyright, about one week after the workshop the MFO disables the access to the recorded talks.

Practical recommendations/best practices

Based on the experiences of previous hybrid meetings we provide this collection of best practices for organizers and participants.

In particular, as online talks are more exhausting to attend than talks in person, we recommend to restrict the length of all talks to 20-50 minutes. As a courtesy to all participants, online participants should enable their own video picture if possible, but mute their own microphone until a discussion session starts.

Discussion sessions with international online participants are often scheduled to the afternoon because of the time delay (America: local time is 6-9 hours earlier than the local time in Oberwolfach; Asia and Australia: about 5-9 hours later than local time in Oberwolfach). It is also possible to have special "virtual" coffee-breaks with the online participants.

Video Conference Assistants

In order to help the organizers with the new video conferencing activities the MFO funds one or two graduate students or postdocs selected by the organisers as Video Conference Assistant (VCA) - in addition to the "Workshop Reporter" who is in charge for collection the abstracts of talks for the workshop report. The VCAs can serve as an intermediary to our IT and take care for example of zoom-invitations (including the zoom waiting room), notifying schedules and help organizers and participants to hold these sessions. We will contact the organizers about 1-2 weeks prior to the workshop concerning this matter.

Freedom of the organizers

Concerning the scientific structure of the workshop, the organizers will have all freedom to create a program that fits to the mix and the preferences of participants present personally and online - in particular the organizers can choose their own mix of lectures at the MFO, online zoom presentations and discussions for all or in smaller groups.

According to the Oberwolfach tradition, the schedule should allow plenty of time for interaction in small groups or individually. Many organizers and participants rate the intensive discussions as the most important aspect of the MFO.

We hope that the situation will stabilize further such that the possible number of guest researchers at the MFO will increase in future such that most participants can attend workshops in person. The concept of hybrid workshops is flexible enough such that we can quickly react to changes in the restricions defined by the governments.