Scialog Conference Assessment

November 12, 2010

An important goal of Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA) is to accelerate transformative research in the most needed scientific fields. As a means to this end, RCSA organized its first ever Scialog — the compound of science and dialog — Conference to focus on the particular area of solar energy research. In addition to the traditional scientific conference schedule consisting of a sequence of formal presentations punctuated with coffee breaks and meals, Scialog was designed to facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations and encourage the exchange of ideas through its unique conference schedule and location as well as the opportunity for conference participants to compete for supplemental funding for proposals written during the conference.

Datascope Analytics developed a social network survey to not only establish whether the Scialog Conference increased interdisciplinary collaboration and idea sharing, but how and why Scialog accomplished these goals. In order to address these issues, we surveyed Scialog participants before and after the conference to assess how participants' relationships changed from unfamiliar to awareness to discussion and finally to collaboration during the conference. At the end of the conference, we further asked participants to identify the conference activities that most directly enabled the strengthened relationship, as well as which conference activities most directly enabled idea sharing and referrals.

Step diagram showing awareness through collaboration
Emerging collaboration model. Presentations tend to make researchers aware of one another's work and undirected dialogs (coffee breaks, meals, etc.) tend to provide ample opportunity for researchers to have detailed research discussions. Collaborations between researchers were largely facilitated by the grant writing competition.

Whereas traditional conference activities (formal presentations, poster sessions, and undirected dialog) tend to lead to awareness and discussion among participants, the supplemental grant competition proved to be the step that transformed ordinary academic interactions into active collaborative relationships. In future work, we will assess whether these Scialog-initiated collaborations persist. Additional findings from our work include:

  • Out of the 36 solar energy researchers in attendance at the conference, the Scialog Conference facilitated awareness of an average of 12.7 other researchers, new discussions with an average of 9.0 other researchers, and 1.2 new collaboration connections with other researchers.
  • Awareness and discussion connections made during the Scialog Conference are significantly more interdisciplinary than the pre-conference awareness and discussion connections whereas new collaboration connections are not significantly more interdisciplinary than the pre-conference collaborations.
  • About 75% of the most innovative ideas were shared during formal presentations (52%) and undirected dialogs (23%).
  • Over 45% of new collaboration connections were made between individuals that thought each other’s ideas were very innovative.
  • Undirected dialog fosters the most referrals.

contributors to this post

headshot of Dean Malmgren
headshot of Mike Stringer