There's a ton of content provided during meetings and in post-event meetings, and now we can integrate and aggregate all of that information through a one-stop shop. It's really exciting that Experience Builder allows us to do that.
AmeriGEO & FGDC GeoPathways Develop an Integrated Virtual Event Platform
To develop the next generation of geospatial analysts and geospatial data professionals, the US Federal Geographic Data Committee established the GeoPathways Initiative. Interns participating in GeoPathways contribute to projects that build skills in geospatial science, data science, app building, graphic design, and communications. In 2020, a group of twenty-five GeoPathways interns worked on an inaugural virtual event, the 2020 Americas Symposium.
The event is co-produced by the Americas Group on Earth Observations (AmeriGEO) in partnership with the United Nations Regional Committee on Global Geospatial Information Management for the Americas (UN-GGIM: Americas). As a spinoff of the committee’s annual AmeriGEO Week, the event was created to call attention to the need for geospatial data integration and establish a commitment among regional organizations to address the issue.
Pivoting to a virtual event would require a few specific things, including language translation and the integration of different platforms and services to deliver content. Organizers turned to GeoPathways, which has a strategic partnership with Esri that enables interns to work with geographic information systems (GIS) technology. The GeoPathways team created web apps and web pages for the virtual event, providing a streamlined experience for presenters and the audience and improving back-end administration.
The team needed to integrate several platforms and technologies—including ArcGIS Survey123, ArcGIS Dashboards, Slido, Vimeo, YouTube, and Webswitcher—to seamlessly deliver multilingual content while minimizing complexity for presenters and attendees.
As such, the event organizers and interns needed to bring disparate sites, systems, and content together efficiently in one environment to streamline back-end production work. The solution also had to support five internet browser types and let attendees view all event content on any kind of device, whether a desktop computer or a mobile phone.
“Communication was our challenge,” says Angelica Gutierrez, PhD, cochair for the regional AmeriGEO, and lead scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “Also, we needed to bring in applications that were not necessarily Esri applications.”
The distribution of languages among the 20 GEO member countries in the Americas is Spanish (16), English (3), and Portuguese (1); AmeriGEO has adopted English and Spanish as its communication languages. Translation of content was an additional challenge for the virtual event. With a global audience of potentially more than 1,000 people, Gutierrez says it was important for regional attendees to “feel comfortable, [seeing content] in their own language.”
AmeriGEO and FGDC GeoPathways Initiative students
Migrate in-person events to a virtual environment using a platform that can integrate multiple technologies and apps, incorporate multilingual content, and would run on any type of device.
ArcGIS Experience Builder
The solution increased participation, improved multi-lingual and multi-lateral communications, streamlined data collection and registration, improved back-end administration, and created a template for future virtual events.
The platform had a few other requirements, including an archive of event content and reference resources for the community. There also needed to be a mobile-friendly version of the event platform for individuals with limited internet connectivity.
AmeriGEO and UN-GGIM: Americas turned to GeoPathways for help developing their virtual event platform. The GeoPathways team selected ArcGIS Experience Builder to combine all the capabilities needed in one place. ArcGIS Experience Builder allows users to create web experiences using flexible layouts, content, and widgets that interact with 2D and 3D data.
One of the primary needs of the virtual event platform was to be able to easily update information on the sessions and presenters in real time, as the schedule was organically changing throughout the event. Experience Builder would enable the GeoPathways team to include dynamic content and data coming from various sources throughout the event. For instance, Experience Builder supports embedded content with a simple copy and paste of an iframe.
The team integrated ArcGIS Survey123, a form-centric app for creating and sharing surveys, to help build web pages. They built multiple surveys with Survey123 to develop, collect, and update the event session descriptions and presenter details. This data was then pulled into Experience Builder to automatically generate and update content.
They added several unique features, including the ability to quickly browse the agenda with multilingual translations enabled by the hover feature; a presenter console to make it easier for moderators to facilitate their session with details on each presenter; an audience console to engage in each Q&A session; and an online archive of sessions, presenters, and recordings.
Within a few weeks, the GeoPathways team had launched the event platform. The inaugural virtual 2020 Americas Symposium was a success with more than 20,000 total hits, 5,000 unique viewers, attendees from 56 countries, and almost 50 days’ worth of video material consumed. Traditionally, an in-person Americas Symposium event reaches the mid-100s for registration and participation. For the 2021 AmeriGEO Week registered, surpassing the goal of 500. For the 2021 AmeriGEO Week , 781 participants registered for this virtual event. The initial event platform created in 2020 informed the development of a template used for the 2021 event and will be used for future events.
With traditional virtual events, attendees often have several windows open simultaneously—for example, Zoom, Slido, and maybe the agenda from the event website—which may limit engagement during the event. The integrated interface created by the GeoPathways team fostered collaboration and facilitated conversations throughout the event.
“I wanted to highlight this benefit as far as the international participation and for the participants and speakers themselves. People weren’t navigating between multiple windows and multiple applications and having to sign in on a few things and worry about different [passwords] or event codes,” said Albert DeGarmo, AmeriGEO Secretariat staff member and an international relations specialist for NOAA. “It was all just already prebaked into the system, ready to go.”
The ability to create reusable templates with Experience Builder allowed for more automation in workflows. Data can be swapped by using the existing virtual event platform. The GeoPathways team built the surveys, which were the data entry source, to be able to prepopulate the site as new agenda items or presenters were added. This virtual event platform template was used for other AmeriGEO events, such as the 2021 AmeriGEO Week and the Peru Mapathon 2021, shortening the development time.
The new platform also allowed for efficient, affordable, and user-friendly translation features.
“We saw a huge increase in our reach and our ability to connect with end users, not only in the Western Hemisphere but around the world. We had representation from every single regional organization of GEO participating,” says DeGarmo.
Automation has been an additional benefit of Experience Builder. The symposium was composed of dynamic content that often changed, which meant frequent updates before and during the event. A traditional content management system often requires manually adding content and resources and updating data separately. Experience Builder enabled the interns to integrate data and feature dynamic content more easily.
Feedback from the 2020 symposium was overwhelmingly positive, with other regional GEO branches asking for tips on hosting their virtual events. AmeriGEO took the opportunity to reinvent its approach and has seen record-breaking participation from speakers and attendees.
“These developments really made us a shining organization as far as the event itself. It’s been transformative to the organization and our engagement,” says DeGarmo.
Each intern brought their own unique perspective to the challenge of hosting a virtual event. Intern Bakal Dagnachew says he enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of the work and appreciated that they could immediately see the impact of their efforts. Intern Tyler Faist added that they enjoyed being allowed to play and be creative with solutions. Intern América Álvarez says, “The overarching purpose and goal for the work we do is to promote data-driven decision-making and capacity building. GIS can be applied to local, social, economic, and just a wide variety of issues. That’s what I'm very interested in, and that’s why I love the work that we do.”