What's Happening Here?
The report, Of Meetings and Members, provides a summary of discussions and workshops held over the course of 2022 and 2023, the result of a study by Ithaka S+R into the future of scholarly association conferences. Funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the work by Dylan Ruediger, Jessica Pokharel, Alex Humphreys, and Laura Brown documents the concern surrounding the in-person conference as a mechanism of scholarly communication. Allowing for what the authors themselves characterize as "heavy doses of speculation" as to shifts in strategic direction, the report brings some interesting ideas to the fore.
The report highlights the following possibilities:
- Scholarly societies have long traditions of hosting conferences, yet too often convention rather than purpose drives decisions on content and format. Experiments with conference design should begin with a clear articulation of purpose.
- The structure and content of meetings send strong signals about an organization’s priorities and values. Decisions-making about conferences should be calibrated to reflect a society’s mission and goals.
- Making significant changes to meeting formats involves risk, but new conference modalities provide even greater opportunities to increase the impact and accessibility of scholars, build and empower diverse research communities, and improve the sustainability of societies.
- Hybrid conferences are already here, but hybrid is best envisioned as a changeable cluster of possibilities rather than a single format.
Essentially, participants during the workshop discussions were wrestling with the question of purpose -- not just of conferences, but of associations. The report's conclusion identified this as the "elephant in the room".
What is the purpose of a scholarly society in the twenty-first century? Declining memberships and the sense among a significant number of early career researchers that societies are at best indifferent to their needs are indications that many scholars are also asking this question.
The report closes out with recommendations for scholars, associations and funders. Full text of the report is available at no cost here.