Improving participants’ involvement during virtual conferences

by Joyce Dillon ( (comments: 0)

During the latest railML ® conference,’s common coordinator, Thomas Nygreen, tried out a new way to allow the participants to take on a more active role during his presentation. He chose to use a series of polls to give the participants a chance to engage in the conversation and help obtain a general overview of the current “mood” regarding certain topics, such as conferences, development issues and the meeting system.

It must be stated that the polls simply served to help our coordinators gain an impression of how the railML-community feels and the results do not guarantee a certain course of action. However, the coordinators will definitely take the results into consideration when making any future decisions. Below you will find a summary of some of the results.

Also, these polls are merely a complementary source of feedback from the users. They do not replace the regular process through which features are implemented and decisions made. For any technical features, elements, etc. that are needed by users, a forum post must first be created. Here, the issue shall be discussed, and everyone can give feedback. All governance-related issues are discussed between stakeholders and railML coordinators in their monthly meetings.

If you wish to read more about what went on during the conference and about the interesting presentations by users and members of the railML community, then please take a look at the November news article "38th railML Conference – hosted virtually from the HQ".

Deprecation between railML versions

How to handle changes between minor versions has been an ongoing discussion for some months. For more detailed information and the options, please see the news article from May 2020 "Handling minor changes within versions" as well as the forum post. For more information about versions please also see the railML wiki article "Dev:versions".

Respondents seem to prefer having the flexibility to improve the specification (unlike in railML 2) but were divided on how quickly to allow changes. Minor changes might still be allowed and deprecated immediately. However, these changes should be discussed nonetheless and then communicated as a decision by the coordinators before implementation. Since railML is made for and by the users, gathering their feedback is important before making any major decisions.

The railML coordinators have discussed this further and agreed on a course of action. The decision made is to deprecate elements in the version after the current one and removing in the one after that. This would also be in line with the most recent feedback gathered at the conference.

Code lists

There were also questions regarding certain common topics, such as whether a code list of infrastructure managers should be maintained. As you can see, some things still need to be discussed…

Future conferences

Through the choice of many, including, to switch to virtual events during the pandemic, we’ve been able to acquire some experience in organizing virtual conferences to complement the many years of experience hosting physical ones. Therefore, it was only fitting that the question of how conferences shall be held in the future was brought up. 

According to the results, most participants appear to prefer the option of continuing with the physical conferences (provided the Covid restrictions are lifted), as well as keeping the traditional social event on the evening before. This gives everyone the opportunity to socialize and offers a faster way to exchange ideas with one another by means of discussions in small groups.

Since a great number also seemed to prefer the virtual alternative as well, the option of possibly hosting a physical conference and stream it live could be explored. This would give those users who are not able to physically attend the meeting the chance to still be present and be part of the event. This would also expand the reach of the railML conferences, as participants outside of the European area would be able to attend without much effort.

Such a task would require lots of preparation and planning on the side of as special conference systems and a camera operator are needed. Of course, this idea shall not be discarded, and the coordinators will discuss the feasibility of it. Stay tuned for updates, which will be published on the upcoming conferences’ respective event pages.

Another question with regard to the conferences was about the frequency and language. The majority of the participants chose “English and twice a year,” however, this was to be expected as this question was asked during the English-speaking conference. In order to gather a more representative opinion, the same question shall be asked at the next German-speaking conference in the Spring. Afterwards, the coordinators shall review the full results and discuss further. A change to two English-speaking conferences per year should not be expected yet, as the German-speaking conference is normally well attended too.

Conference and meetings system

Coordinators, stakeholders and members of the working groups have been discussing which conference system to use in the future.

After the feedback from the community, it seems that will continue to use GoToMeeting for the work. This is, of course, an IT-question and could change in the future if there are any features offered in other systems that might facilitate the work. For now, all shall remain as is. Nonetheless, remains open to new ideas!

Once more, it was great to hear what the community thinks of the current railML work and how satisfied they are with the conferences as they have been hosted so far. Our coordinators will make sure to take the gathered data into consideration when making decisions in the future and they plan to include such polls into all future conferences (when appropriate and applicable), independent of whether it takes places physically or virtually.

An aspect that shall be improved for next time is that all registered participants will be informed about the questions that shall appear in the polls prior to the conference. This will give everyone ample time to form an opinion. If you have any ideas for future polls or simply want to give general feedback, please contact the organisational team per email. Thank you to everyone for reading!

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