Looking for advice re: tools in planning an ad hoc symposium

Hi all,

Over the last several months, I’ve been having a weekly chat with a number of people about vascular physiology, blood flow delays, and noise in fMRI. We were thinking it would be interesting to have a symposium to get a broader discussion going on the topic. Since everything is remote nowadays, it’s tempting to just go ahead and do it, rather than organize something within the confines of a society (also, it may be of too narrow an interest to get a slot at a conference).

One of the things that makes this seem possible is what I saw as the wildly successful Open Science sessions at OHBM this year. That seems to have been done in parallel with OHBM, with completely independent infrastructure. Since there is a large overlap in this group and the OHBM Open Science SIG, I was wondering if anyone could offer advice as to how you went about selecting these tools, what sorts of costs are involved, how hard it is, how to make it inclusive, etc. Is running a probably smallish symposium something 5-6 people with day jobs can manage?

Any advice is welcome, so thanks in advance,


Hi @bbfrederick !

I just want to tag in the lead organizers for this year’s hackathon and OSR – @Remi-Gau @Liza_Levitis @cassgvp @StephanHeunis. They’ll have the most insight to share here.

That being said, I’d say that it’s definitely possible ! It’s not a small effort, of course, but how much work it will be largely depends on the scale of the event you’re envisioning. re costs: I think the main cost was the CrowdCast platform itself, which runs about $200 USD for the month you’ll be streaming. You’ll want to make sure that videos can then be synced to a more permanent home like YouTube (Bilibili is also a great option for locations where Google is blocked), though long-term hosting should be free.

re making an inclusive event: there’s actually ongoing work to create a short guide for inclusive online events (!) based off of these experiences. Some general highlights: (1) for global participation, have hubs in multiple time zones, (2) carefully consider your fee system and provide a means for no-cost registration, and (3) have and enforce a code of conduct.

Obviously there’s lots more that can be said here, but I’ll let others jump in.

Hope that helps,



Hey @bbfrederick (and thanks @emdupre for the ping)

The short and unhelpful answer is: it depends.

The slightly longer version is would be this.

It depends on

  1. the scope:
  • one day symposium
  • audience / reach
    • how big
    • geographically delimited or world-wide (see the points about hubs by Elizabeth)
    • how specialised
  1. the format you want to have:
  • series of one person talks
  • some panel discussions (more or less planned in advance)
  • how and how much you want to facilitate the social interactions between attendees,
  1. how much time the organizing team can spend on this (we learned the hard way that organizing something like this with too little time can burn your team).

Regarding platforms I must admit that some choices were made in a rush because we were on a tight schedule. But it turned out that gather.town is a great platform to help with the lack of real face contact (though it is more expensive now).

Some resources you might find useful that emerged around the OHBM time:

Also want to highlight some other virtual events that you could get inspiration from:

Will actually ping the “physio” that hangs out in the Brainhack world as many of them could share their practical experience with virtual events and their more theoretical one with the content (maybe).

Hope this helps.



Hi @bbfrederick, @emdupre, @Remi-Gau

Thanks for the question and ping. I agree with most that has been said (no surprise :D). I can add that I agree it should be possible for a team of the size that you mention, especially if it’s a short-ish symposium (1 day?).

I can add some ideas about platforms to choose from:

  • Crowdcast is great if you want the ability to follow a predetermined schedule, have max 4 people on screen at any given time, have very interactive real-time discussions via text, and have the ability to live stream to another outlet such as Youtube.
  • If you have access to a Zoom business account, that can also work nicely depending on the size of the audience (I think it can take up to something like 300 guests, but I’m unsure about this). Zoom is not great for live chatting compared to Crowdcast, IMO, but the breakout room functionality is nice if that is something that’s important.
  • Discord (free) is something that’s becoming more popular as a text-based, asynchronous setup which might be useful for hackathon type events. It also has the ability to do voice calls and video calls, although IMO the two options above are better suited for that.
  • Gather.town is great for social interaction, but if it’s a small event where most people will interact via video or chat in any case, it could be a bit unnecessary

So i think its important to decide early on what type of event you want it to be - more discussions, or more presentations, or more hacky stuff - and that should guide your decision about the platforms.

Lastly, about designing for inclusion. Setting up the technical and organisational infrastructure to allow for inclusivity is important, as per @emdupre’s suggestions of hub-based schedule or streaming to a free service, and asking low or no registration fees. Additionally I think it’s very important to spend time beforehand reaching out to people in the community who have expertise on the topic but who may have been or are being excluded or who will increase the diversity of participants. I think this is especially great to do for something like a panel discussion on an interesting or controversial topic, so that the voices that are heard on that topic are diverse.

There’s a lot more that I can think to say here, and a lot is also covered in the links that Remi provided, but perhaps you can let me know if something that I’ve mentioned here sparks interest, then I’ll be happy to add more context if needed.

Perhaps @smoia might want to share some thoughts as well, since he’s been actively involved in community efforts, brainhack organisation, and physio!



Wow - thank you all for the extensive answers - that’s exactly the kind of information we were looking for!

We were thinking of a few days, but we may be being grandiose for a first time out. I guess it will depend on interest.


Hi all! I hope I’m not late to the party - ISMRM deadline was keeping me busy!

I agree with pretty much everything that has been said until now (weird right?), and I can say by experience that even a small (<50 people) event can take at least a good two months of organisation (with someone doing that pretty much all day).

Then, a couple of things that I picked up on the way:

  • Zoom (webinar) is either equally or more functional than crowdcast, and normally have lower prices (unless we’re talking very high numbers of participants) [disclosure: I’m not endorsed by Zoom]. It’s true that the chat function is a bit more rough than Crowdcast, but if you can live without emojis, there’s not much difference. If you expect less than 100 attendants you can get a good conference for a very low cost.
  • If the conference is free, consider that the real participation will be closer to a third of the registered participant than to the number of registered participants.
  • Contacting any platform and asking for prices might get you a good deal.
  • Before going on the global scale I would do a preliminary survey for interest - what @StephanHeunis was saying is definitely true and important, but it also need to be balanced by the fact that you can’t have everyone online at the same time. Having a schedule that works badly for most of your (possible) attendants because it’s too focused on a minority might be a drawback, and end up being less inclusive than planned - although what is more inclusive than something that doesn’t work for anyone?
    I have to say, the three best global remote conferences I saw this year were ISMRM, HBM Hackathon, and OHBM OS-SIG (not necessarily in this order). Definitely something to take as examples!

In any case, I see an overlap of topics proposed here with what is the ICP network. They were thinking about organising an online event as well, and asked around to see if there was enough interest (that wasn’t there six month ago). If there is renewed interest, they might be prone to help out and possibly ease the process.
I would try to contact them first, then survey again the community for interest, then move on from there. There’s definitely interest on something like this from my side!

Let me know if I can help further.