Virtual workshops connect researchers during COVID-19

COVID-19 has brought about a number of challenges in the way international research operates and also highlighted the critical role that research plays in responding to such complex problems.


Travel restrictions and periods of uncertainty have put plans on hold and forced organisations to rethink how they work across state and international borders, and how they can respond with speed and agility to the conditions of the moment.

PAIR’s COVID-19 pivot

In March, as the novel coronavirus spread, the Australia-Indonesia Centre quickly adapted and moved all operations online. The PAIR program swiftly took action to ensure there would be no risk to the health and safety of researchers, the Program Management Team (PMT) or the communities in South Sulawesi where PAIR operates.

PAIR’s Pilot Projects were moved online to be conducted remotely, rather than in the field in South Sulawesi. They are currently being undertaken as a combination of desktop and secondary analysis, making use of primary data collected using digital platforms.

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Pilot Project topics were also re-focused where relevant. The Young People’s Health and Wellbeing project now focuses entirely on the impact of COVID-19 on young people in South Sulawesi. A component of the Commodities project now involves documenting the effects of COVID-19 on the seaweed industry, and comparisons with other agricultural activities. The Young People and Development project explores the socio-economic and development aspirations of young people in a post-COVID-19 world, while the Transport, Logistics and Supply Chain project lays the foundation for integrated and connected transport planning centred on the railway – an important first step in ensuring that connectivity is future-proofed against disasters and crisis.

A virtual exchange of ideas and findings

A major feature of the PAIR program is the twice-annual workshops that bring together all PAIR researchers, the PMT and stakeholders to design and discuss the program’s research. So far, these have been held in Melbourne (September 2019) and Makassar (November 2019 and February 2020). The next workshop was due to be held in Perth in June 2020.

Health risks and travel restrictions led PAIR to innovate, and design a multi-component workshop that could be run entirely online in August 2020.

Prior to the workshop, each research group shared preliminary findings from their Pilot Projects through video or PowerPoint presentation.

PAIR researchers and program staff gather from nine different cities for the virtual workshop. (Image: AIC)

The first virtual workshop was then held on Tuesday 4 August via Zoom, with 29 researchers and seven PMT members beamed together from nine different cities. Researchers worked together to answer questions and find points of integration between each of the four research groups’ project findings.

Based on these findings, they are spending a week working in smaller groups to plan their Strategic Integrated Project proposals.

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The group will reconvene on Wednesday 12 August to discuss each group’s proposal, provide feedback and help each other refine the proposals to ensure the research is interconnected and complementary.

This model of virtual divergence and convergence is key to ensuring a cohesive team and a collaborative research process. The virtual version mirrors the structure of the face-to-face workshops but allows for the additional flexibility that is required in this new COVID-world. We look forward to seeing what the team achieves.

Picture of Marlene Millott

PAIR Program Officer
The Australia-Indonesia Centre