In the past, traditional scientific conferences have provided sites of discovery at which researchers, academics, and more could accelerate breakthroughs, make connections, and share ideas. Yet with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent canceled in-person conferences, the scholarly community has been pushed to reassess past models and discover new ways of convening. Amidst these changes, what elements of scholarly gatherings have remained essential? And what does the future of scientific exchange look like beyond the pandemic? Morressier CSO Lauren Kane participated in the American Institute of Physics Panel on the Future of Association Convening: Envisioning for The Sciences (FACETS) to discuss these topics in more depth. Read on to discover the key findings of the report.
When it comes to the future of scientific exchange, FACETS members envision models that expand the lifespan of traditional in-person conferences. These new formats increase engagement from participants from different backgrounds and communities while also changing the way attendees interact with content. Moving beyond a single 'ephemeral' event and allowing attendees to access content before, during, and after the conference will accommodate participants from different time zones and offer new opportunities for data analytics. This will also allow the key elements of traditional models such as networking, questions, and conversations to be prioritized during the conference itself. FACETS members suggested that societies and organizations link questions and answers from live events to on-demand recorded content to allow for maximum flexibility and a better experience for participants.
Looking ahead, panel members also suggested experimenting with different ways of disseminating critical information and increasing audience engagement during gatherings. As opposed to traditional poster talks, panel discussions and interview-style research presentations are often more captivating for attendees. These formats can also ensure that multiple co-authors have a stage to share their perspectives and insights on a research project.
Integrating social media feeds and online chat boards, including trivia-style Q&A sessions, or even using art to convey information are examples of other unique ways to innovate future in-person, hybrid, or virtual conferences. Diversifying ways of depicting findings can also help to limit screen fatigue for audiences who’ve been glued to their computer all day or sat in a darkened room watching back-to-back poster sessions.
Does your organization both actively seek diverse ideas and voices and prioritize inclusion and safety for these participants? Even before the pandemic, conference participants, especially women and underrepresented minorities, had to factor in their emotional and physical safety when attending events. Looking towards the future, FACETS members recommend that societies and organizations prioritize sourcing participants from outside of their expected circle in order to platform new voices and ideas. This can be done by obtaining more diverse leadership, opening up committee meetings to anyone interested, or targeting underrepresented groups, such as scientists from historically black colleges and universities when seeking speakers for conferences. Quiet rooms or anti-harassment signs around poster-halls may also help establish a more inclusive culture at in-person events. Another powerful way to ensure accessibility is to continue to provide remote access to conference content for attendees who struggle with travel costs, are physically disabled, or who simply prefer to attend your event virtually.
While in the past, academic conferences have often been “single-society” events, FACETS panel members have ideas that may allow scientific organizations to move past this reluctance to work together. Partnerships not only allow learnings and tips to be shared between societies, but can also increase event attendance, encourage cross-disciplinary collaborations, and provide a wider pool for connections. This can help to increase diversity and accessibility, including by partnering with identity-based groups such as the National Society of Black Physicists.
All in all, FACETS panel members have reimagined the traditional conference model to offer simple, innovative, and sustainable ways to both disseminate and access research. This aligns perfectly with Morressier's goal to increase the impact of scientific conferences and work together with the entire scholarly community to create more inclusive and collaborative scientific spaces.