To maintain international exchanges and collaboration during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hong Kong Geopark has actively explored the possibility of applying internet technology for online exchanges when face-to-face communication is not possible.
In the first quarter of 2020, Hong Kong Geopark launched “Let’s Do It”, an online exchange meeting, which engages members of the Asia Pacific Geoparks Network (APGN) and invited speakers from other geoparks and networks. Exchange sessions of about one hour were held every month to share news, ideas and work progress, including COVID-19 updates, approaches to combating the pandemic, and how to conduct geopark operations during this period. There have been some challenges to making the online exchange platform work. For example, certain popular web-conferencing software programs are restricted in some countries and regions, and unreliable network stability and slow data transmission speed affect picture and voice quality. The multiple languages involved are also a hurdle.
To overcome these hurdles, the following measures were adopted:
● Hong Kong Geopark started a group on mobile communication media software (smartphone messaging apps, like LINE). APGN geoparks interested in online exchange sessions were invited to join the group.
● Prior to every meeting, we discussed the meeting date and time, discussion topics and detailed arrangements to identify the best options.
● During the meeting, volunteers from the various geoparks were on hand to provide simultaneous voice interpretation or translation of text-based exchanges in the chat room.
● After each meeting, valuable reference materials were uploaded to a cloud drive for sharing, and one-on-one chats were arranged to provide further details.
Despite the challenges, many APGN geoparks have participated with great enthusiasm and helped us solve the various problems. To date, we have held more than 10 online exchange meetings.
With the experience gained from the online exchanges, APGN’s “Let’s Do It” group joined the 6 th International Training Course on UNESCO Global Geoparks Management and Development, held in Yimengshan UNESCO Global Geopark of China in December 2020. An English presentation on geopark visibility was delivered to participants live in a classroom and to other geopark colleagues online, with Chinese and Japanese interpretation provided by volunteer group members. This pioneering initiative broke language and geographical barriers, enabling some 140 participants from different countries to share valuable information in real time.
On another note, the APGN’s social media platforms (e.g. Twitter and Instagram) have remained active since its launch in late 2019. During the pandemic, in particular, social media has been an effective channel for publicising the latest geopark news and has played a positive role in promoting exchanges among APGN members.
The experience of maintaining networking activities during the pandemic through social media and online meetings has not only benefited us during this difficult period, but also strengthened our collaboration and solidarity, which will continue in the future.
APGN “Let’s Do It” online exchange meeting with the participation of the Latin America and Caribbean Geoparks Network; exchange activities like this have become part of the new normal during the pandemic.