Last week, we (the James Hutton Institute) welcomed to Scotland representatives of 23 partner organisations to initiate the DIVERSify project. The Royal Society of Edinburgh provided a distinguished venue in the heart of the city for our kick-off meeting, held on the 26th and 27th April 2017. This inaugural meeting of the project brought together - for the first time since project inception – representatives from partner organisations across Europe, Africa and the Middle East, allowing us to make connections and learn about each other’s role in the project.
On day one, the meeting started with an introduction by Graham Begg, leader of the Agroecology group at the James Hutton Institute, who emphasised the importance of adopting an ecological approach to achieve sustainable agriculture. This was followed by an overview of the project aims and ambitions, with presentations from leaders of each of the six work packages outlining the main tasks and deliverables. At the end of the morning, a representative from each partner gave a one-minute speed talk to introduce their organisation and identify the partner’s role in the project; we discovered how difficult it can be to distil information into a single minute, especially with a session chair wielding a timer and a loud whistle!
The afternoon gave an opportunity for extensive discussions in breakout groups and workshop sessions designed to gather opinions and feedback on aspects ranging from project methodology and data management to communication and knowledge transfer. Delegates were asked to say what inspires them about the project – check out @PlantTeams on Twitter and the DIVERSify Facebook to find out what they said.
The first day ended with an evening meal, introduced by a rendition of traditional bagpipe tunes performed by our colleague and piper Pete Iannetta in full Scottish regalia (see @PlantTeams for a video clip). Over dinner and drinks, everyone relaxed and took advantage of the opportunity to get to know their DIVERSify colleagues, aided by a ‘guess the owner’ activity where each person contributed an item anonymously to their dinner table that revealed something about their interests or hobbies. Discovering which item belonged to each person provoked many questions and much discussion. The most unusual item? Possibly the tuning key for a mandolin. Most shortlived item? Almost certainly the contents of the whisky miniature…… Slàinte mhath!
On the second day of the meeting, the Organic Research Centre advised on methods for running consultation workshops with stakeholders and scientists, and talked us through different methods for communicating about the DIVERSify project using the project social media accounts and website. LEAF gave us some handy hints and tips for talking to people from different (particularly non-scientific) audiences, while Taskscape challenged us to think about how to tell our project ‘stories’ through the medium of film. See how we got on by viewing the film of the kick-off meeting under the activities-video tab or at plant-teams.tv. The closing session of the meeting encouraged us to consider how to develop the project exploitation plan for the range of anticipated project outputs, from scientific knowledge to stakeholder tools, and including as-yet unforeseen outputs.
As the DIVERSify kick-off meeting drew to a close, there was a strong sense that we had come together as a team and made good progress in planning early project activities, ensuring the ground work was in place to guide and develop our work in the coming months. We left with a much better appreciation of the social, technical and research skills offered by the consortium partners and the responsibilities that we have taken on individually and collectively to deliver an exciting and challenging project. We’re looking forward to continuing our work as part of the DIVERSify project team in the months and years ahead.