All Hands on Deck Report, Part 1: The Event

John Tadiello

The ocean is for everyone. The advancement of ocean sciences and the oceans’ protection is a collective endeavor. We need all people. It will take effort, resources, and intentional changes to the way we think and operate to truly broaden participation of groups historically and consistently underrepresented in ocean sciences.

We have the necessary skills, so how do we broaden participation past the incredibly elite model of sticking a handful of experts on a ship in the middle of the ocean?

–Dr. Diva Amon

All Hands on Deck, held at MIT Media Lab, was the 2018 National Ocean Exploration Forum of NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. Previous forums have generally been invitation-only and resulted in a small, homogeneous cohort of people who attended each of the past events. We took intentional measures to make All Hands on Deck different. The All Hands on Deck report offers actionable recommendations that can and should be made to encourage expanded engagement and participation in a national program for ocean exploration in the US and beyond. 

About All Hands on Deck

The goal of the 2018 National Ocean Exploration Forum, All Hands on Deck, was to imagine creative new ways to make the ocean so pervasive in modern culture that everyone has a positive association with and understanding of the sea. We sought participants who are passionate about ocean exploration, and who exemplify diversity with regard to gender, culture, socioeconomics, geography, and domain knowledge. We believe in the power of diversity to bring different viewpoints to the table in order to creatively reach new audiences about the importance of the ocean and exploration. 

A total of 370 people registered, including applicants, invitees, and caregivers, from 22 countries and 29 US states, as well as a broad cross section of expertise, ranging from scientists and oceanographers, to comedian paleoanthropologist television presenters, and everything in between. Forty-two Ocean Discovery Fellows were supported through travel assistance, representing 11 US states, Puerto Rico, and 17 countries around the world. The livestream also attracted 488 viewers, more than doubling the total number of participants in the event. Finally, more than 500 people attended events at the New England Aquarium Simons IMAX Theater for Boston Ocean Day.

First Things First

We took steps to include representatives from all demographics at the beginning of all efforts to avoid disconnects and missteps. This meant our recruitment, application, and selection processes needed to be open and actively directed at new and different audiences. 

But first, before all that, we took the time to articulate our guiding values: 

  • Have an open application process.
  • Establish a travel assistance grant.
  • Allow caregivers to attend.
  • Make as much of the event publicly accessible as possible.
  • Demonstrate openness and inclusion by being selective about who is on stage.
  • Dedicate a significant amount of time to hands-on activities such as demos and workshops.

We were fortunate to have the instrumental guidance of those experienced in addressing diversity and inclusion issues. We thank Monica Orta (MAS Dir. of Diversity and Student Support), Alexis Hope (Civic Media PhD candidate), and Dr. Judy “J.J.” Jackson (recently MIT’s Diversity and Inclusion Officer) for their instruction and also assisting us with getting the word out.


A lot of thought went into the selection of participants, speakers, workshop leaders, as well as to engage them during the event itself. We therefore made six major changes to this forum: 

One distinguished KEYNOTE SPEAKER opened each day picked to inspire, connect with, and celebrate the diverse attendees.

Six PANEL DISCUSSIONS addressed each of the six themes of the forum: play, imagine, immerse, create, explore, connect. Each panel consisted of three or four speakers who gave short presentations on their work and its relation to the panel’s theme. Each panel was hosted by a moderator who set the stage for each discussion and thoughtfully included audience participants in the conversation. 

LIGHTNING TALKS were held each afternoon and twenty-seven students and Ocean Discovery Fellows highlighted their work to all forum participants through 2-minute Lightning Talks. This platform was a way for the entire assembly to hear new work from individuals early in their careers and represent the diversity of the forum attendees.

WORKSHOPS were held each afternoon of All Hands on Deck. There were a total of ten workshops available to participants, and each attendee participated in four workshops, two per day. Workshop topics were intended to reinforce the themes discussed each day in a hands-on, participatory environment. 

ART OF DISCOVERY - During lunch, breaks, and reception on Day 1, the Schmidt Ocean Institute Artist-at-Sea program, along with two panel speakers, exhibited their work ranging from glass sculpture to painting, highlighting the breadth of work portraying ocean science and data interpretation. 

DEMONSTRATIONS of nine projects were available to participants during the lunch break on Day 2 of All Hands on Deck. Project leaders presented their research and results in an informal, conversational setting to allow participants to get an in-depth look at recent advances in ocean exploration and communication. 

BOSTON OCEAN DAY - On Day 3, we deepened our commitment to engage the public with a free event at the New England Aquarium’s Simons IMAX Theater.

This is post is part of series that shares the methods of planning All Hands on Deck and the resulting impact and recommendations generated from the event.

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