The University of Liverpool spearheads a digital collaboration between the UK and Ukraine and paves the way for international academic success.
In a bid to boost international research collaboration, the University of Liverpool has successfully led a project aiming to enhance digital research ties between the UK and Ukraine. Focusing on a broad digital theme, the initiative explores areas like mathematics, algorithms, AI, data science and more.
Titled Building Digital Capability for Recovery in Ukraine, the venture was pioneered by Professor Igor Potapov from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Liverpool Science for Ukraine initiative. The programme's goals are multifaceted, from stimulating the growth of the research environment and promoting Ukrainian scientific organisations to establishing a vibrant research network with representatives from various prestigious organisations. These include The Royal Society, The Turing Institute, and the National Research Foundation of Ukraine.
Background and technology
The project was formally started with an open call for Digital Theme Ambassadors in January 2023. This call saw significant promotion on popular social platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter. Thanks to assistance from the #ScienceForUkraine academic community group and the Cormack Consultancy Group, the call reached a broad audience. From January to March 2023, the project witnessed the recruitment of 64 Digital Theme Ambassadors. These ambassadors hail from diverse academic backgrounds, with 48.4% from the UK, 36.9% from Ukraine, and the remainder international academics.
To further nurture these collaborations, the University of Liverpool hosted a series of hybrid coordination meetings, culminating in the UK-Ukraine research twinning conference. The event occurred from March 27-30, 2023, with an impressive turnout of 292 participants from the UK and Ukraine. Post the conference, a research network known as the DIGITAL-UA Slack Channel emerged. The channel is initiated and maintained by Digital Theme Ambassador Dr Olexandr Konovalov from University of St Andrews and the channel now boasts 180 academic members, serving as a hub for discussion, information dissemination and fostering new initiatives.
Virtual and real
Various online platforms facilitated this conference, with Easychair utilised for the submission review process, Gather.town for organising virtual poster sessions and Zoom for online sessions of invited talks and presentations.
On the benefits front, this initiative is expected to pave the way for Ukrainian academics to integrate seamlessly into the international research circuit. Numerous new collaborations have already surfaced. For instance, The Turing Institute is now in talks on cybersecurity and software verification, while there's a budding collaboration between BCS and top Ukrainian universities.
These advancements echo the OECD Policy Response’s recommendation for Digitalisation for recovery in Ukraine. Furthermore, multiple academic media platforms and newsletters have reported the success of this initiative, amplifying its significance in bolstering UK-Ukraine digital research collaborations.
It is a groundbreaking move that promises to augment Ukraine's digital infrastructure, digital economy, and IT sector, potentially playing a pivotal role in its future recovery.
Focus: building the best virtual experience
The University of Liverpool utilised a trio of online platforms for a recent conference: Zoom for videoconferencing, Gather.town as a virtual venue, and Slack for updates and chat conversations. Zoom provided the leading platform for talks, but solely relying on it could lead to a mundane experience. Gather.town was incorporated to mimic the atmosphere of a physical event, allowing participants to engage in impromptu interactions when their avatars approached each other.
Gather.town excelled during the poster sessions. Attendees could navigate their avatars to different poster booths, view previews, and interact with presenters in a designated private space. However, anticipating its use for spontaneous interaction was more challenging and might require more host interactions. Nonetheless, Gather.town is suited well for virtual exhibitions with predefined informational context for interactions or for more intimate gatherings where participants had pre-existing real-life connections.
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This system proved effective and might be replicated in future events. The conference's Slack workspace, initiated as an ongoing platform, also saw a positive reception, housing 180 members and multiple channels. This environment encouraged post-event networking and community interactions.
Two students even leveraged contacts made during the poster sessions to join an online workshop, showcasing the tangible benefits of this approach. Although the virtual setup had its challenges, especially in facilitating casual interactions, it provided ample opportunities for meaningful engagements, demonstrating the potential of online platforms in hosting comprehensive academic events.
The Digital Theme Research Twinning initiative is expected to be developed further and the University of Liverpool is leading many programmes with Ukraine on the digitalisation and digital transformation research.