Soon after joining the Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities as executive director, it was clear to Ken Schoppmann there was a big asset the organization wasn’t taking advantage of in the right way.
Each of the organization’s five regional chapters host annual meetings, which bring together about 100 to 150 participants each around the country.
“My early observation is these are great events. They’re really interesting and engage different parts of the community than the folks who attend annual meetings” at the national level,” Schoppmann said. “It’s not surprising, but if you weren’t fortunate enough to be in the room when the meeting took place, you’d get no benefit or have no awareness of what was discussed because there was no effort to capture and collect the information shared.”
While the process Schoppmann hopes will bridge this gap is still coming together, he’s starting to get support for finding a solution to make all that knowledge more widely shared.
Schoppmann’s biggest challenge is an obvious one: He’s the organization’s sole full-time staffer. Still, that hasn’t stopped him from taking the steps to move ABRF toward a more cohesive information sharing structure. The starting point, he said, is to empower his chapters to collect that information by pulling together all the PowerPoint presentations, PDFs or copies of any handouts from those meetings. Those are starting to get linked online now, but Schoppman sees a more connected future — one that could see his organization grow by creating a nationwide network of resources.
“We want to make content live beyond a day-and-a-half event,” he said. “As part of that, we need to help the chapters build a process to collect that content so it’s not just a speaker plugs in, takes out a USB and we’re done.”
Having a consistent follow-up process to collect that content and get it online is crucial, he said, to avoiding the creation of “five islands of information.” He noted, too, that he hopes to one day be able to make all of it searchable and more clearly organized.
“I’d love to learn more about the regional variation around any of the issues (the members) may be talking about and at the same time,” Schoppmann said. One of his goals in the next couple of years is to identify a key issue and gather responses at each regional conference, then pull the reaction to it together for a big presentation at the national level.
The goal would be to “compare and contrast those conversations, because, as I see it, that’s the role of an annual meeting,” Schoppmann said. “Do the thing you can’t do a local meeting and have a broader perspective, especially in our organization, which is purely volunteer managed and derived and organized event.”
One of the keys to his success in starting to drive this cohesion was the standardization of chapter websites. While the goal to do so predated Schoppmann, he oversaw an implementation that allows each chapter’s website to have a similar framework and branding. This allows the chapters to share a web developer, who was able to train volunteers to make minor updates.
“It’s really about alignment and aggregating the content,” Schoppmann said, ”because whether a member is in Chicago or Atlanta or California, they’ve invested in the organization and … they’ve paid for the info at the other chapters.”
Recognizing that, Schoppmann said, will help his organization make those cross-chapter connections.
“There might be a (potential member) in Ohio, but I can make a pitch to you that, by being a member of ABRF, you’re going to get access to information from MIT and CalTech and be introduced to people in those organizations or hear from speakers there and elsewhere,” he said. “You’re opening the doors to realize that, even with my local engagement, I’ll still have access to a national range of resources.”