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Part of my work on the Erasmus+ AI Pioneers project is that I am the internal evaluator. And I have to produce an annual evaluation report. The emphasis on project evaluation has varied greatly over the years, but with the Erasmus + programme now emphasizing the delivery quality of products as signifying achievement (and drawing down payments) rather than previously insisting on time sheets, evaluation seems to be on the up again.

For the first year project Quality and Evaluation report, I interviewed someone from each of the ten project partners. I had some broad issues I wanted to explore but I was most interested in what issues they wanted to discuss. And one of the issues which came up a lot was the frequency and organisation of project meetings.

Until recently the norm was that project partners met together two or three times a year, usually for one and a half or two days with the EU paying for flights, accommodation and meals. Of course Covid ended that with projects being forced into online meetings. And for new projects, the norm seems to have changed with projects like AI Pioneers only scheduling an annual meeting. Some partners felt this was not enough, missing the opportunities for informal discussions which go along with face to face meetings and feeling that the monthly online meeting (using Zoom) was both often tiring and did not replicate the more relaxed and in-depth discussions of face to face engagement. However others vehemently opposed any increase in face to face meetings, pointing to the cost and environmental impact of air travel.

My own feeling is that we are getting pretty good at using technology for online meetings (and we have certainly had plenty of practice). But what I think we are not so good at is sharing and exchanging information and developing shared knowledge through online tools, outside the online meetings. In most projects we use Google Drive, because it is free and works pretty well. In the AI pioneers project we are using the Open Source Next Cloud application which also works pretty well. These applications are pretty good for collaboration around writing things and for formal document exchange. But they don't work very well for the more informal knowledge exchange we need in shared projects. And at one time or another I have used quite a few productivity apps ranging from Slack to Mattermost. They don't seem to get enough traction although maybe they just need more collective perseverance or even larger groups.

A couple of weeks ago I read a newsletter (sadly I cant remember who by) which appealed for the return of the 'old fashioned' bulletin boards supporting online Forums. It was pointed out they support threaded asynchronous conversations as opposed to more recent applications which seem to try to develop near real time exchanges despite us not always working in the same time zones and not all of us free at any one time. Personally, and I have been called a dinosaur for this, much of my communication online is through Skype. It just works. Microsoft spend most of their time trying to promote Teams (which I am not fond of) and don't mess with Skype too much (apart from suddenly chucking Bing AI at it for no obvious reason. But I wouldn't mind trying out an old fashioned Forum again.

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