Advantages of Running Virtual Advisory Boards

April 25, 2023 Array Team

Advisory board meetings are unique among life sciences meetings in that they are designed to elicit responses and gain information from attendees, rather than impart knowledge to them. There is also a high level of confidentiality, usually entailing a “nothing leaves the room” policy. Caution is taken to make sure attendees do not take notes or bring presentation materials away from the meeting, which serves as a ‘safe space’ for advisors to share openly with each other and discuss important topics. Given this, any type of meeting technology was historically  a source of scrutiny, and a minimalist approach was the standard. However, paring down technology to the extent that information only flows in one direction creates a huge, missed opportunity to get the most benefit from a gathering of your valued advisors. There are various ways to use technology to engage and gather critical insights without losing the necessary confidentiality of the meeting.

Prior to the pandemic, there was little to no interactive technology used during an advisory board meeting. Slides or points of discussion were shared on main screens in meeting rooms where they were seen but not touched. Managed iPads®, if used, were used simply as a second screen display. When the pandemic shut down other meeting types, the pharmaceutical industry needed to find a way to keep advisory board meetings going. The information gathered was just too important to wait during an uncertain period until in-person gatherings could take place again. Pharmaceutical advisory boards were some of the very first meetings that moved to virtual formats. Suddenly, and for the first time, organizers saw the value of interactive technology. Array had already developed a platform for virtual and hybrid meetings before 2019 and had experience presenting these types of meetings while gathering data from engagement. There was a sudden uptick in the number of advisory board meetings we partnered with virtually. With engagement features built into the platform, stakeholders were finally able to glimpse the value.

Learning from virtual meetings

Array worked with advisory board partners to provide discussion content via our virtual platform. Engagement tools helped ensure the advisors stayed connected to the meeting despite not being in the room with everyone. We also adapted those tools so they would continue to gather data at the individual participant level, but in a way that fit the advisory board meeting goals. Rather than polling to test participant knowledge, polls were used to solicit ideas or opinions from participants that moderators could then use as conversation starters. Of significant benefit was the fact that this type of polling allowed for the collection of opinions from every advisor. Often, the dynamics of a pharmaceutical advisory board can be directed by a small group or individual who can dominate the conversation and steer opinions. A shy advisor may not want to offer input as a dissenting voice, and the opportunity to collect their input is lost. Through polling, they can anonymously share every thought and opinion. 

Additionally, the traditional Q&A was used as a means of asking participants for their solutions to challenges. While saving slides isn’t allowed in an advisory board, we retained the ability for members to ‘make comments’ or ‘provide feedback’ on individual slides – which were then shared with the organizer instead of being emailed to the participant. The result was twofold: information was shared confidentially with the moderator during the meeting so he or she could pivot the discussion if it seemed beneficial; and a comprehensive report was sent to the organizer after the meeting that shared insights directly from the ad board themselves. Every comment made on a slide or opinion, suggestion or solution shared via polling was curated and available to review. This was a game-changer for an industry that had previously relied strictly on what a scribe in the room could hear and note.

The next level

With enough experience with virtual meetings and engagement technology that could confidently be used, the industry learned of new opportunities presented by that technology. Among these, Array provides the ‘silent observer’ mode for virtual meetings, whereby the stakeholders can view the meeting as if they were looking through a double-sided mirror. After the meeting, our partners would receive a recording along with robust reports that were used as the foundation for in-depth Executive Summary reports, all of which were derived from the engagement technology. Virtual meetings brought them more insights than ever before.
As in-person meetings have returned significantly for most meeting types, advisory boards remain the largest continued adopter of the virtual meeting format. This is likely in part because virtual meetings enable advisors to participate without leaving their practices for extended periods of time. However, it is also just as likely because stakeholders have come to appreciate the engagement, reporting and silent observer benefits of the format. They also found they could gain efficiency by holding several virtual advisory boards in a short timeframe.

It's important for meeting organizers and stakeholders to use engagement technology for the maximum benefit regardless of the meeting format. Whether in-person or virtual, we can work with you to plan to use the engagement tools to gather the information and insights you need most from your ad board while maintaining the confidentiality you need. 

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