Will it strengthen those bonds of trust, reinforce the reasons members keep coming back and renewing year after year? Or is it a risk that brings changes to a valued tradition?
None of this is to say that you should avoid change or risk when it comes to modernizing or evolving your society. In fact, for every member that doesn’t want things to change, there’s likely another member who is hungry for things to be different. It’s a complex balancing act to sustain revenues, increase member engagement, advocate for your discipline, and publish the research the world needs to move forward.
Societies and associations around the world are trying new things with one of the biggest member benefits (and biggest investments) that many societies have: the annual meeting.
What forces are driving change for members?
When it comes to conferences, members want a lot. They want to connect with others in their community, some of whom they may only see once a year. But in the past couple of years, there are new concerns.
The pandemic has brought the role and impact of conferences into a new light. Conferences had to change quickly to keep members safe. But as conferences made the quick switch to virtual, we began to see new themes emerge. As the pandemic forced change, we began to realize that virtual meetings are also greener and more accessible. With some distance from the burden of travel and the energy costs of an in-person meeting, members began to wonder whether these virtual alternatives, while not exactly the same, may be a net positive in terms of environmental impact. And more voices spoke up from across the research community--researchers with disabilities, researchers without the financial resources to attend conferences, researchers who are earlier in their careers--about how virtual meetings allow them to engage and participate where before they were excluded or faced challenges to in-person attendance.
The research community is more global than ever before, but it is also more collaborative than ever before, and conferences can harness that power.
What does that mean for the future?
From a practical perspective, members want more collaboration that’s more accessible, and that means virtual or hybrid options to meet those needs. Bringing that research online, and bringing the presentations and discussions that spark new ideas and breakthroughs online as well, will serve a greater percentage of your community by including those who would otherwise be unable to go to an in-person conference.
When we look at the future, though, we also see a real opportunity to focus on sharing research ideas earlier. Sharing conference research, and making it accessible once the conference is over, can have a bold impact on how quickly science changes the world.
Why no one is giving up on conferences
When the world changed practically overnight, in March 2020, conference organizers needed to make decisions fast. What we’ve seen is resilience, and a commitment to trying new things. The world of research would be darker without conferences, so even with everyone unable to travel, we didn’t stop finding ways to share ideas and connect.
That’s because we all know the value of conferences, and more importantly, we know the value of conferences for members. Conferences exist for members to connect with each other and learn. And we need to do both of those things now more than ever.