[ Innovations & Updates] May 11, 2020
Disseminating early-stage research in the age of COVID-19
In the current age, it is clear that rapid research and dissemination of associated findings – well before that research is ready for journal publication – is vitally important as the global community searches for ways to combat this pandemic. In this post co-founders of Morressier, Sami Benchekroun and Justus Weweler discuss the company’s origins, their future vision, and whether COVID-19 has impacted their view of how research should be disseminated.
What was the impetus for starting Morressier? What problem were you trying to solve?
Justus Weweler: The vision of what could be done with this type of research started a decade ago as we were working on conferences, meeting scientists from all over the world, and seeing everywhere the same issues in the way early research was being exchanged. You had people going on stage and presenting information or meeting in front of a poster session, discussing their research with the other researchers right there at the poster or in the lecture hall. Then they would all go home and nothing more would be done with that content. There was no further knowledge exchange beyond the presentation at the conference.
We thought ‘How can we help transfer this knowledge using technology?’
We started with the analog posters. It was mind blowing to us that after the conference, these posters are usually simply trashed. Maybe, you would take a picture of the poster on your phone and then use that to share it with friends or colleagues, but that was it. This seemed ridiculous to us – that this content would be lost, and we felt that there needed to be a change. So we started a decade ago in Europe with an ePoster management and presentation service, and expanded from there to delivering more services beyond posters – to include presentations, abstracts, and more, to help disseminate this information.
Sami Benchekroun: The moment of truth for both of us came when we heard scholars say time and time again that ‘We cannot get access’ to this content. You have all of these conferences taking place and all of this knowledge being shared, and only a small amount of what is happening ends up being widely disseminated via this one format – the journal. There is a tremendous amount of important content being lost. We knew we had to find a way to provide greater access to this knowledge.
Morressier partners with societies, institutions, companies and works with individual researchers directly as well. Can you describe how these partnerships work?
Sami: Everyone organizes conferences and we are offering a standardized, yet modular workflow platform solution for conferences – regardless of who the organizer is. We’re providing a solution to manage the content dissemination around a conference experience. We naturally started by working with societies and conference organizers. We then realized that universities and industry are also a very important part of the ecosystem. Societies organize conferences, universities send their scholars to these conferences, and industry wants to be part of the conversation too in participating in the latest research. We’ve built an early-stage research platform for dissemination of this research – wherever it originates. The goal is to provide access to this pre-published research that is a critical part of the scholarly dialogue.
With conferences both getting canceled and going fully virtual, combined with the even greater need for research to be shared in the age of COVID-19. How much more important is this all right now?
Sami: Nothing has changed. It is extremely important but that isn’t a change. This is a continuing problem. If you look at the Ebola crisis and the way research was disseminated back then – it was a problem then too. The only thing that changed is that conference organizers and others are realizing the scope of the issue now.
Scientific communication can be slow and that has always been a problem. The current situation requires us all to move more quickly – it accelerates the mindset. The idea of turning conferences into accompanied virtual experiences, running classrooms digitally, was never imagined at this scale. Innovation is accelerating everywhere.
Justus: There is a greater knowledge demand now. And the need to rethink revenue streams increases the speed of innovation. It is clear that having this technology in place to help disseminate early research benefits scientists around the world. We are now finally making it a priority to rethink how content can be more accessible.
What is your vision going forward? What should societies, universities, and other conference organizers be thinking about to further support early-stage research?
Sami: We are in a time where classical formats are being rethought. We see how important it is to track research processes from beginning to end. There are an increasing number of publishers who recognize the importance of connecting the published paper with everything that came before it and are trying to do so. This is tied to the growing need for reproducibility and transparency. When you’re talking about open access and open source, you need to look at the entire research process – not just the final result. Only a fraction of research ends up published. But there is so much to learn from what happened in the earlier stages, including the failures, the negative results.
Also, conferences and publishing should no longer be two completely separate activities. Societies need to think strategically about their overall organization and not have a strategy for publishing and a separate strategy for conferences. They should be thinking about how they can work together and tie all content types into one coherent story.
The way early research is disseminated needs to change. In-person conferences aren’t going away. There is a rich human factor which is very important and cannot be 100% duplicated virtually. But we are seeing that we can use technology to further engage with more people, which will only serve to increase the overall quality of the meeting over time.
After five years of focusing on conferences, building awareness and trust, and gaining experience, we are now in a unique position to bring an equalizing element to research – to give researchers from central Africa the same opportunities as those from Harvard. We can do a lot to support developing countries. There is incredible research happening around the world. By expanding our core business beyond Europe and the US, and by moving into Africa, Indonesia, China – other areas where there are a lot of great conferences happening and helping to disseminate that research, we hope to make a real impact.