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Thank You to the 2020 IIC Congress Digital Engagement Volunteers

Enthusiasm is contagious, as clearly shown by our amazing team of Digital Engagement Volunteers (DEVs) during Congress this past November. The seamless flow of presentations and engaging Q&A sessions was beautifully supported by our DEVs preparing and working behind the curtain; it takes quite a lot of effort to make it all look effortless, and these Volunteers played a key roll, all the while showing great poise (on camera no less!) under pressure. The Congress DEVs also inspired us with the fun atmosphere of teamwork they cultivated, celebrating each other for well-executed sessions and quickly jumping in where help was needed. For those of us who attended Congress, we can attest to this enthusiastic spirit of community which spread throughout the entire week.

Below we share reflections on the experience from three of our DEVs as well as excerpts from the congress session blog posts, also thoughtfully written by the Volunteers (and available to read in full HERE).

Riza Hussaini, Conservator at the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, UK

Those who attended the 2020 IIC Congress participated in the first ever virtual congress to be held by the IIC. Although it could not replace being physically present at Edinburgh, and many including myself would have welcomed all opportunities to visit the beautiful city, the organisers and speakers created an exceptional experience for all.

I was part of a large cohort of volunteers selected to provide necessary assistance to facilitate engagement and moderate the ‘rooms’ during Congress. We were global; our experiences varied, but conservation connected us. At the helm of our crew was Sharra Grow from IIC and Neil Gilstrap from Cadmore Media whose support was invaluable, making our operations run smoothly.

As this was my first IIC Congress, there was not a precedent to compare it to. Perhaps activities such as the tours of the city and networking sessions can never truly be replicated. However, chat streams and various channels to interact with attendees were available so connections remained to be made. What I had slightly overlooked were time differences, so occasionally I found myself still awake at 2am. Although the hours may seem antisocial, this was what made it more inclusive. Delegates and attendees were from around the world, so having sessions that spanned time zones was a great way to make it accessible. This, and the pre-recorded sessions, meant Congress never really ended. It also enabled me to attend regional sessions and sit in to learn about what is happening with our international colleagues.

I was in a team with three others, and yes, we too were spread across the globe. With a combination of messaging systems, e-mail and virtual meeting platforms, we organised and completed our tasks. It really was as hectic as you would imagine the behind-the-scenes of a congress to be, however all unseen by attendees. Internet cut-offs, frozen screens, back-up connections on mobile phones and emergency WiFi/broadband boosters were a shared volunteer experience, but we cheered when everything was settled in the end. It may have been only a week, but what a team we were. I look forward to when some of us can meet and work together again in future.

Priyanka Panjwani, Conservation Architect and Design Professional based in India

My engagement as a DEV for the IIC Edinburgh Congress was an opportunity that made the year 2020 memorable. With the ongoing pandemic and lockdown circumstances, the Congress week was one where I felt most connected with my professional fraternity, albeit virtually. All the sessions were immaculately organized for a large online audience, thanks to 

the rigorous backend work by many including the in-house IIC team, the volunteers, session chairs, technical media team and also the expert panellists. As a volunteer from India, I was assigned moderation over two sessions in the Congress for which I interacted with my co-DEVs from Argentina, Spain and America. The standard protocols and zoom training sessions made the course of action very clear, and there was flexibility in discussing unexpected scenarios by connecting on social media groups. It was exhilarating to be able to interact with the speakers during the live broadcast, as if they were walking down the audience rows in a hall, answering questions. I collated the unanswered questions and chat comments on a shared document, and my team referred to it during the zoom meeting after the session. We made the best of the different time zones to summarise and express our opinions in the blog posts that we co-created for the IIC Congress. The highlight of this commitment for me was being able to learn about new technologies in conservation and also to travel to various sites in Edinburgh from my home!

Jessica Bekesi, Objects Conservator from Northwestern Ontario, CA

As an emerging conservator often living in remote areas, I had never had the opportunity to attend a professional conference. With the health regulations and travel restrictions due to the novel coronavirus, it was starting to look like I might not have the chance for quite some time. Happily, IIC found a way to safely host an exchange of ideas without risk of hosting the virus as well; it moved the 28th Biennial Edinburgh Congress to a digital forum! Wanting to get as much out of the experience as possible, I applied to be a Digital Engagement Volunteer (DEV).

As a DEV I worked with 24 other volunteers from across the globe to support IIC in navigating the new territory of a digital congress. Leading up to the event, we initiated discussions on digital platforms and created social media content. We found ways to use the digital forum to our advantage by using transcripts and recordings of the sessions and communicating across multiple platforms simultaneously. We corresponded with the authors before and after their sessions to draft questions and reflect upon the respective discussions in the Q&As. We were able to use the on-going IIC hosted chats and blogs to extend our discussions and incorporate answers to questions that the authors didn’t have time to address.

Volunteering with IIC’s 28th Biennial Congress, I had an inside view of how a congress operates and the immense collaboration involved, while having a rewarding whirlwind experience and making new connections across the global heritage community. In a way I feel lucky to have had my first congress be digital because of the extraordinary accessibility that not only allowed me to attend nearly everything offered from the comfort of my living room but also allowed me the opportunity to volunteer and contribute to making the event a success. It was a wonderful experience that I hope to have again.


“Session 3” By Namrata Patel

“Ms Katherine told an anecdote of how, as a child, she would spend her summer holidays looking at paintings and other Danish treasures with her parents. It gave her insights into the daily life of people in the Middle Ages. Built heritage reflects our history, it helps us to understand and respect people who lived before us—their different habits, their traditions. They are a standing testimony of human creativity and innovation. As pointed out by Ms Sibylla, if the value of a site is derived from its historic integrity, interventions that only stabilize paintings may be viewed as insufficient. I personally feel that conservation exercises should be used as a catalyst to involve the local community and get their participation. Conservators need to collaborate with custodians and stakeholders. An active involvement of civil society is the best way to safeguard heritage and create opportunities for human and economic development.”

“IIC Dialogue Panel” By Riza Hussaini

“Comments poured into the chat box, sharing positive experiences and reflections on what the pandemic has brought. Some felt the respite from constant visitor streams benefitted the preservation of collections. It was mutually felt that the time away gave people a chance to re-evaluate practices and plans. One comment that resonated with me was how colleagues otherwise not involved in back-of-house operations are now involved with these tasks. I am a firm believer in harnessing the power of people to open up access and advocate for the work we do as conservators, so it was a welcome observation.”

“Session 7” By Annabelle Williams

“At the heart of these discussions, particularly during the Q&A, was the role of conservation in re-establishing societies during disaster recovery. Martina Haselberger and Jessica Johnson agreed—from their respective work in post-earthquake recovery in Patan and on the Nimrud Rescue Project in Mosul—that the conservator’s role involves close working relationships with locals to identify their needs and priorities ahead of the conservator’s desire to “fix things” that hold value.”

“Session 8” By Alexandra Taylor

“The Voice and Vote exhibition is a prototypically successful example of cross-team working. Several questions asked during the Q&A queried the collaborative strategies behind handling such a diverse range of people. To this Dr. Mari Takayangi reflected on her enthusiasm jumping between the various heritage teams within the Parliamentary Archives and the Works of Art Department. “The most important thing that I did in the four-year lead up was to make everybody as excited and enthusiastic [about the project] as I was”.

“Session 10” By Tatiana Shannon, Jenny Ellison, and Stephanie Guidera

“As church attendance decreases within the UK, visitors are more often there to admire a church for its spectacular architecture, art, or history, rather than being a member of the church community. The tourist lens with which we increasingly view heritage through has particularly acute ramifications for the faithful; to separate church heritage from its original intent only serves to separate the congregation from communion with God. It is this duality that conservators working on, or in, one of the 15,742 buildings that constitute the Church of England estate, have to balance in order to best respect the original purpose of the churches; to be places of worship and to minister.”

(See all the amazing Congress images and read the whole article in the February-March 2021 "News in Conservation" Issue 82, p. 22-27)

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Enthusiasm is contagious, as clearly shown by our amazing team of Digital Engagement Volunteers (DEVs) during Congress this past November. The seamless flow of presentations and engaging Q&A sessions was beautifully supported by our DEVs preparing and working behind the curtain.
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