Zoom’ing out on COVID-19

By Todd Barker

11 March 2020

The world is scrambling to respond to COVID-19. At Meridian, we are conveners—and we have a responsibility to protect our staff and participants, while doing our part to reduce further spread of the coronavirus. We are limiting travel, rescheduling meetings, and shifting dozens of meetings to virtual formats.

While we are all experiencing significant disruptions in our personal and professional lives, the complex and often controversial issues facing our global community—tropical deforestation, climate change, fisheries management, and more—continue to stare us in the face. 

As the global community responds to a ballooning COVID-19 outbreak, our work—together—on these issues will require a continued and sustained commitment to leadership and collaboration. And, collaboration, whether it is in person or virtual, depends on preparation, substantive understanding of the issues, research and analysis to inform deliberation, awareness of power dynamics among people and institutions, political considerations, and more.

We are moving ahead, full steam, with our work coupling tools to support online collaboration with our expertise in collaborative process design, strategy, research, implementation, and philanthropic support.

For one upcoming meeting (that was planned for a venue in Europe) we are scheduling a 3-day virtual meeting with sessions that build upon one another. The virtual deliberations will be informed by background research and pre-meeting interviews and feature plenary sessions and breakout sessions hosted on the videoconferencing platform Zoom.

In another case, we are replacing a 3-day in-person meeting with a virtual meeting that will span over several weeks and feature numerous ways to engage including virtual panels, keynotes, plenary sessions (our Zoom platform even enables us to stream plenary speakers in different languages through separate audio channels!), breakout sessions, polling and surveys, and a virtual “cocktail reception” that will provide an opportunity for people to meet on a personal level. We are going from a 3-day meeting to a 3-week meeting that will provide more opportunities for engagement with a larger group, all contributing to the development of products designed to drive an aggressive agenda on climate change.

In times of a crisis, it sometimes helps to look at the big picture. I often think about our work at Meridian splitting 90/10. 90% happens in between meetings and is often invisible. We do research. We interview people. We convene teleconferences and Zoom meetings. We assess contextual issues (e.g., existing policies, investment flows, politics). We have the conversations that are needed to set the stage for effective decision-making. We hear from many partners that Meridian is everywhere, but only 10% of our work is bringing people physically together and facilitating meetings.

Collaboration—whether it is in person or virtual—depends on preparation, substantive understanding of the issues, research and analysis to inform deliberation, awareness of power dynamics among people and institutions, political considerations, and more.

In your own organization, you may be thinking about how you will continue to make progress addressing the pressing issues facing our global community during a period of restricted travel and prohibitions on public gatherings. Remember to zoom out and remind yourself what makes collaboration work. It is 90% of the work before and after the meeting that leads to progress. Yes, virtual collaboration tools will become increasingly important, but without the 90%, the tools and technologies are meaningless.

I hear repeatedly that my Meridian colleagues are the essential ingredient in our special sauce. This fun, talented, and dedicated team of people is working as hard as ever to help our clients and partners develop and implement solutions to complicated, often controversial problems—big and small, global and local.

Shifting Meetings Online

We've been rapidly redesigning meetings for the virtual environment in response to COVID-19. Take a look at a successful retreat we recently shifted online!