Facilitate Scientific Collaborations

Organize Virtual Meetings

Virtual meetings or conference calls can be a good starting point to bring researchers and other key stakeholders together. Virtual meetings require a smaller time commitment from the participants since there is no travel required. Although your group may be familiar with holding virtual meetings among staff, volunteers, medical advisors, or your board of directors, you may want to make a few changes when involving outside medical and scientific researchers.

Consider your goal for the meeting. You may want to choose only 1 or 2 goals, especially for the first meeting. Some possible goals include:

  • Introduce researchers to one another and to key stakeholders.
  • Have researchers present a brief overview of current projects and goals.
  • Review relevant experiences of patients with researchers.
  • Brainstorm tentative short- and long-term research goals.
  • Highlight areas for collaboration.
  • Establish open sharing of data and analyses. 

Successful meetings rarely just happen. Knowing how to focus planning efforts can save time and energy, while still providing the elements needed to achieve the meetings goals.  There are a number of steps you can take before the meeting to ensure it is productive.

  • Restrict meetings to key participants:
    • Virtual meetings with limited participants can be easier to moderate and allow everyone a chance to have their voice heard. 
    • Researchers may speak more freely in a smaller group.
    • Minutes from the meeting can be sent to a larger group of interested parties after the meeting.
    • Edited recordings of the meeting can be made available to staff, volunteers, or even posted on your group’s website (with proper consent from participants).
  • Use meeting goals to guide invitations:
    • Smaller meetings are better for enabling discussions, making connections, and making decisions.
    • Larger meetings are better for information dissemination and presentations.
    • Patients, families, and caregivers may not need to attend a meeting designed to make connections between academic researchers.
    • Your group’s Medical/Scientific Advisory Board may offer helpful insight or help translate technical research terms.
  •  Establish the meeting platform:
    • A voice-only conference line may be the easiest for all to access and is the least technologically demanding, but it will limit the type of sharing of information available. Materials to be shared will need to be sent prior to the meeting.
    • Online meeting or web conference platforms will allow screen sharing but are not always accessible to everyone. Skype, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, and Zoom are the most popular programs/applications for virtual meetings.
  •  Tips for successful meetings:
    • Familiarize yourself with the technology being used in the meeting. If you are not tech savvy, you may wish to appoint a staff member with the right skill set to the task. Generally, you will need to know how to:
      • Start and end the meeting.
      • Share your screen or webcam, as well as help others share their screen.
      • Mute and unmute microphones.
      • Share files.
      • Send and read text chat messages.
      • Record the meeting (if applicable).
    • Draft an agenda for the call and include when inviting participants and then share a finalized version at least a week prior to the meeting.
      • Align the agenda with the meeting goals. Is the meeting to generate ideas, facilitate collaboration, or to make decisions?
      • The agenda should also include a list of topics, attendees, facilitators, and the time and meeting platform. 
    •  Assign meeting responsibilities. If you are working together with multiple people to plan the meeting, you can divide up the tasks each person will be responsible for before, during, and after the meeting.
      • Consider having someone other than the facilitator being responsible for watching the clock, taking notes, and sending meeting notes after the meeting. 
      • Depending on the technology being used, you may want to have someone assigned to help the facilitator in case any technological issues happen before or during the meeting.
    •  Be mindful of time.
      • Start the meeting on time even if all the attendees are not present and finish at the time listed on the agenda, in case participants have other commitments.
      • Keep the first meeting under an hour. Longer meetings can be scheduled later as specific topics are identified that need a more in-depth discussion.
      • Ask the timekeeper to chime in when you have reached the end of allotted time for a specific agenda item and at 3 breakpoints: halfway, 15 minutes left, and 5 minutes left.
      • Moderate to keep meeting on topic, but be flexible. Be willing to stop a discussion or move non-urgent items to the next meeting.
    •  Agree on time/date/format of next meeting.
      • Finding a meeting date and time may be difficult to accomplish between meetings when more than 3 people must coordinate.
      • During your meeting wrap up, try to get a general idea of when the next meeting should be held (a week, a month).
      • If you cannot get this done, use an organizing tool like Doodle, where participants can enter their own schedules instead of asking for availability via email.
    •  Send meeting notes highlighting action items from the meeting.
      • Notes should provide a summary of discussions, record important decisions, list action items, and function as a document to remind everyone of what was agreed upon and why.
      • Compile notes sooner rather than later. The meeting notes should ideally be sent out within 24-48 hours after the meeting, so that participants can make appropriate corrections as needed.


Organize In-Person Scientific Meetings
List of Registries National Institutes of Health Clinical Center (link)
NIH Support for Scientific Conferences (R13 and U13) National Institutes of Health (NIH) (link)
FAQs about R13 grants National Institutes of Health (NIH) (link)
NIH Programs Supporting Collaboration
Office of Advocacy Relations National Cancer Institute (NCI) (link)
Patient/Community Engagement & Health Information National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) (link)
Work with NCATS National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) (link)
Rare Disease Clinical Research Network (RDCRN) National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) (link)
RDCRN Funding Information National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) (link)
RDCRN Conference on Clinical Research for Rare Diseases (CCRRD) National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) (link)
FDA Critical Path Innovation Meeting
Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADAs) U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (link)
FDA Critical Path Innovation Meetings U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (link)
Video on the Critical Path Innovation Meeting (CPIM) Program U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (link)
Other FDA Meeting Opportunities
Patients Ask FDA U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (link)
Patient Listening Sessions U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (link)