Letters of Intent received in 2022

LoI 2024-2185
The Past, Present and Future of Working Together

Date: 5 August 2024 to 16 August 2024
Category: Focus meetings (GA)
Location: Cape Town / hybrid / online, South Africa
Contact: Ron Ekers (ron.ekers@csiro.au)
Coordinating division: Division C Education, Outreach and Heritage
Other divisions: Division B Facilities, Technologies and Data Science
Co-Chairs of SOC: Ron Ekers (CSIRO / Curtin University)
Rika Kobayashi (Australian National University)
Co-Chairs of LOC: Vanessa Moss (CSIRO / University of Sydney)
Charles Takalana (African Astronomical Society)



The history of international collaboration in science
The history of IAU international conferences
The philosophy of conferences and meetings
Definitions of standards and nomenclature via collaborative processes
The impact of past, present and future developments including mega-astronomy projects like the SKA
The history of changing meeting technology and formats
Current tools, technologies and trends in remote meetings
Rethinking the way we hold meetings in the modern era
A view to the future of meetings and collaboration for greater inclusivity, sustainability and accessibility



The IAU 2024 General Assembly is being held in the African continent for the first time in its history, during an era of rapid progress in astronomy against a background of major global challenges. The disruptions of the global COVID pandemic have made us rethink the way we meet, work and collaborate. With changed work practices highlighting issues of inclusivity and the increasing impact of climate change and political instability, such adjustments are being considered a necessary "new normal". We will use this momentous historic occasion to reappraise the role of meetings and conferences from their origins to the present day and speculate on what the future holds. We will do this through a series of talks and discussions focusing on the below key themes, as a starting point for future-proofing the astronomy and academic communities.

### Historical perspective ###
Organising scientific meetings is a key activity of the IAU, which has a history of innovative global collaboration going back more than 100 years. This has been a natural requirement for astronomy with one common sky and the necessity of sharing data from all parts of the world.

One long-standing function of conferences has been to enable practitioners of a scientific discipline to work together by setting common standards and defining concepts and approaches. At the same time, meetings have helped to make cooperation function more smoothly by building informal familiarity and trust between diverse groups of practitioners. Research presentations and discussions make it possible to exchange ideas and set the tone in which scientific debate should (or should not) take place. Governments, in turn, have often used conferences as tools for international diplomacy via science. Throughout the history of scientific conferences - in astronomy and in other fields - organisers and delegates have asked whether and how face-to-face meeting is necessary to achieve their purposes. Scientists have experimented with different forms of gathering and communication.

Looking at the history of international conferences, using IAU as an example, may inform current searches for new ways to meet, talk, and advance knowledge. Our scientific organising committee extends beyond the borders of astronomy and taps the expertise of historians of science specialising in internationalism (via collaboration with the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science) as well as experts from other fields.

### Cultural perspective ###
The IAU draws in people from all over the globe, in 2024 to a continent with a rich and diverse culture. We can use this opportunity to hear the view from the perspective of African cultures and their different histories and presents and how these interface with others from around the world. We are also interested in exploring and highlighting the ways in which changes in approach to meetings and technology can help overcome barriers to participation, facilitating a more connected and global collaborative community. Here too it may help to draw on past experiences with community-building through conferences.

### Sharing data ###
The IAU mission to promote scientific collaboration requires agreements on the sharing of data. The need for a common format for sharing images and metadata led to the global acceptance of the FITS standard for astronomical image sharing in astronomy 30+ years ago. Similar standards were adopted in some other fields. In astronomy, this has been further developed into the Virtual Observatory concept (VO). FITS was a huge boon to collaboration but has its downsides as well. Its wide uptake has created reluctance to move away from the format, despite the need to evolve with changing trends in technology. We do not plan to include technical discussions of image formats but rather to look at the broader impact and future of data sharing.

### Setting standards ###
One of the tasks of the IAU is the definition of fundamental astronomical and physical constants and the unambiguous use of astronomical nomenclature. This involves discussions and a process to reach mutually acceptable agreements which are ratified by the membership. As a case study, agreement on the classification of Pluto led to the great planet definition debate. In this case the process involved a face-to-face meeting at an IAU General Assembly and real-time in-person voting was used but it raised interesting sociological issues. Could this be done better now? The standards exemplified by the IAU will have a global impact on how astronomy meetings are conducted, which emphasises the importance of hosting this Focus Meeting at the IAU GA.

### View to the future ###
We will invite pioneers in science and technology to give their perspective on what they expect to see in the future, particularly with respect to lowering physical barriers for greater inclusion in global science, and hear from the next generation of scientists. In looking to the future of meetings and collaboration, we will partner with The Future of Meetings (TFOM) community to explore in particular how technology can greatly enhance accessibility, inclusivity and sustainability alongside the latest frontiers in advanced collaborative technology.

We will also explore how the advent of mega-astronomy projects can bring new discoveries and new science to Africa and the world. For example, the South African case for joining the SKA project was made outside science. The appeal was the prospect of a world-class scientific and engineering project on the African continent, the big data challenge, and the potential to use the mega-science projects to attract and retain young people in science and technology in Africa.

By the end of this Focus Meeting we aim to have an understanding, through learning from the past, of what is needed for the astronomy community to work together and move forward. Can we meet better, more inclusively and more sustainably? And what standards need to be defined to enable us to do so, best preparing astronomy for the future?

### Local Organising Committee (LOC): ###
The concept of an LOC has to start to change in this new era of hybrid meetings with both local and remote engagement. In addition to the traditional functions of the hosting community we need experts in the structuring of remote meetings which can enable the requirements for diversity, inclusion and equality.

### Other collaborators in this project: ###
Our proposal also has included contributions from others who will be involved in this Focus Meeting, including: Aidan Hotan (CSIRO, AU), Emily Kerrison (University of Sydney, AU), Mike Peel (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, ES), Glen Rees (TFOM, AU), Jessica Reinisch (University of London, UK), Goedele Roos (University of Lille, FR), Geert Somsen (Maastricht University, NL), Elizabeth Tasker (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JP).