Enhancing biosecurity with digital and virtual tools – German institutions meet up to share best practices

In the German Biosecurity Programme, digital and virtual methods and tools have always been used for some of the activities carried out with various partner countries. Nevertheless, travel restrictions and limited possibilities to meet in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic have increased the need for digital solutions in order to keep up the project work. 

A webinar and exchange session between the five German institutions that implement the Biosecurity Programme as well as other biosecurity projects – the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, the Bundeswehr Institute of Microbiology, the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut, the Robert Koch Institute and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH – provided the opportunity to exchange experiences and best practices. 

During the webinar, more than 60 participants were able to hear presentations from six different projects that either found individual ways to transfer on-site activities into the virtual space or extended and created digital resources. Their achievements encompassed very different ideas. One project rethought a workshop series that usually takes place in person into a virtual, informative format that leaves space for networking. In another case, trainings were conducted individually. Videotapes of the sessions were then used to evaluate the trainings collectively which made it possible to continue cross-border collaboration even when travels were not possible. In a third project, an international tabletop-exercise has been conducted with participants located in various time zones using a remote system. Furthermore, GO4BSB and all its possibilities, including e-learning, supplementing online-trainings, and the COVID-19 Information Hub were presented.

A complementary exchange session then enabled participants to dive deeper into and discuss topics such as didactics for online trainings, the use of digital tools for trainings and data security questions when developing own content. The possibility to learn from colleagues within the German Biosecurity Programme and neighbouring projects helped to spark new ideas and find synergies.

All participants agreed that virtual formats will never be able to fully replace on-site trainings, personal exchange and in-person networking. Nevertheless, many solutions found in the biosecurity projects made it possible to keep working on enhancing biosecurity and staying in contact even in these challenging times. Moreover, virtual activities also hold advantages, for example to meet more frequently or address more people located in different places. Hence, some of the solutions developed during the pandemic will be kept as an additional way to work even after the pandemic.