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Pivoting Your Conference

Pandemic as the mother of invention

The last few months have seen a desperate scramble of societies, events organizers, and event tech companies re-configuring the conferences they run and support, to marry up with the already-cliched “new normal”. And while many have been largely forced by time constraints to take the tried and tested conference format of old and squeeze it into an online equivalent, with parallel sessions and virtual meeting spaces (where’s Second Life when you need it?), others are taking time to pause and re-think, and taking a look at the online conference through the lens of product development.

First of all, let’s tackle the terminology. To create a ‘virtual’ conference is tantamount to saying “it’s like a conference, but not quite as good”. I think we can be more positive than that, and reinvent a conference in an online environment that in some ways exceeds what the face-to-face conference achieves, and quite probably simply parks or discards the elements that will never be as good online, for example networking during happy hour. For the sake of argument, let’s call these new events ‘online conferences’.

Casting my mind way back to pre-pandemic times, I recall societies were grappling with the difficult subjects of the carbon footprint of their conferences, inclusivity, diversity, accessibility, promoting early career researcher involvement, global reach, and addressing the needs of scientists and members of adjacent societies, who would never justify in-person attendance at a conference but might really appreciate access to just one or two relevant papers. It occurs to me that most of these objectives can be met by inventing something new, ‘the online conference’ which does not seek to wholly replace the face-to-face events that we love, but instead looks to be the mainstay of outreach, and perhaps the platform for the bulk of the scientific communication that goes on at conferences. What is the purpose of a scientific conference? By definition, it’s the sharing of early research to get feedback from the audience. This primary function can be met online, and most likely represents an improvement on what is current practice. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at what online society conferences can do better!

Please select this link to read the complete article from The Scholarly Kitchen.

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