By way of a crowning conclusion to its 30-months endeavour of establishing the NanoFabNet Hub – an entirely new professional network for collaborations in the field of sustainability and high-tech innovation, the NanoFabNet team published and outlook on ‘Post-pandemic Professional Networks’.
Remembering the original planning of the NanoFabNet at the start of the adventure, the authors note : ’When conceptualising the two-year development time of the NanoFabNet, it was clear that the establishment of a new expert community in an uncharted territory somewhere between the fields of ‘sustainability’ and ‘nanofabrication’ would throw up numerous challenges of siloed thinking and methodologies, so that any additional barriers to the required direct interaction between expert (such as those barriers inherent to video- and teleconferences) would be detrimental to the network’s core idea.’
‘If there was one thing that the NanoFabNet wanted to write onto its flag as a new interdisciplinary network, it was the spirit of old-fashioned working collaborations that are born slowly out of face-to-face meetings between experts that may previously not even have appreciated that an expert stranger from a far-away discipline may have anything to offer to their own area of expertise.’[Post-pandemic Professional Networks, NanoFabNet (August 2022)]
Planning of a novel multidiciplinary Professional Network
The NanoFabNet was designed and determined to be set up as an international network of experts, who would meet at in-person NanoFabNet Meetings on different topics and organised and hosted by different NanoFabNet Members in different suitable locations all over the world. An underlying ‘digital twin’ of this network would provide a strong singular identity to an otherwise distributed, shared networking exercise; this central digital installation would merely serve as a central memory to the achievements of in-person meetings, as well as an information and members-registration hub. Figure 1 illustrates NanoFabNet’s ambitious plan to create a new community-owned network that would overcome the limitations of its siloed components to form an aligned, collaborative approach towards sustainable high-tech innovation.
Establishing Professional Networks in the Times of Pandemics
The original plan of establishing the NanoFabNet as a traditional network focussed predominantly on in-person meetings that would be supported, but not carried or driven, by a central digital hub, was turned on its head when the NanoFabNet development team commenced its planned work in March 2020: the necessary collaborations within the international team of experts who stemmed from different disciplines (ranging from ethics to high-tech nanofabrication), and who were based on three different continents (ranging from countries, such as the USA to EU Member States, to Israel and to Japan) became a testbed for its own approach to setting up and running new international, interdisciplinary networks during a pandemic that afforded unprecedented and unsurmountable limitations to the originally planned reliance on in-person collaborations.
Post-pandemic Professional Networks
With the development of the NanoFabNet now fully concluded, and the resulting virtual NanoFabNet Hub formally launched at in-person events in both the USA and Europe, it is time to look back and draw lessons from the creation and establishment of the first pandemic-proof, truly international Hub for sustainable High-Tech Innovation as an example for future (and hopefully soon ‘post-pandemic’) professional networks.
The report concludes with a summarising SWOT-analysis of those features of professional networks that have resulted from the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic; these include:
- Strengths: truly international and profoundly regional
- Weaknesses: interdisciplinary events […] are rarely successful when conducted online only
- Opportunities: benefits [to] the network by increasing the diversity of topics
- Threats: (a) non-committal (physical) distance to the meeting [by registrants], and (b) insufficient allocation of time to prepare for a meeting and follow up on it [on the part of the attendees]
Through its 30-months-development time during the COVID-19 pandemic, the NanoFabNet has created and simultaneously stress-tested a professional network that combines the best elements of the physical and the online worlds: The NanoFabNet Hub provides both initial solutions and room for further advancements to both of these challenges: an online collaboration platform for scientists, technologists and innovators from both the disciplines of micro- and nanotechnology and sustainability from all over the world, as well as network-activities and representation to provide further advancement, as well as visibility and impact to the resulting sustainable high-tech innovations.
The fiull report is available here.
 NanoFabNet US Launch Event, held during the TechConnect Conference, on the 14th June 2022 (Washington D.C, USA).
 NanoFabNet EU Launch Event, held during the SUSNANOFAB Project Workshop ‘SUSTAINABLE NANOFABRICATION: Joint Networking Event’ on the 6th of July 2022 (Braga, Portugal).