Kathy Marquis and Fynnette Eaton, Co-chairs, 2014-02-11 11:00:05
The SAA Council created the Annual Meeting Task Force in 2011 for the purpose of “analyzing current practices related to the SAA Annual Meeting as well as possible future approaches.” The charge (http://tinyurl.com/chtaz3m) specified that four topics should be considered, each by a subgroup of the task force: social responsibility, meeting content, online accessibility, and meeting model. From the beginning, the task force was intent not only on fact-finding, surveying, and reviewing current professional conference practices, but also seeking input from SAA members at every step along the way. We blogged, tweeted, wrote articles and handouts, and staffed a table at two Annual Meetings where we invited you to write your thoughts about the conference. Your comments reinforced our impressions about what was most important to you as members. As in a concert, we’d like to stop first and introduce the “band”—the people who did the digging, surveying, comparing, and recommending: Task Force Members: Fynnette Eaton and Kathy Marquis (Co-chairs) Jennifer Sharp (Member-at-Large) Meeting Model Subgroup: Lynn Eaton (Chair), Shari Christy, Ardys Kozbial, Berlin Loa, and Christie Peterson Meeting Content Subgroup: Carl Van Ness (Chair), Jacqueline Chapman, Courtney Chartier, Jelain Chubb, Jennifer Johnson, and Ben Primer Social Responsibility Subgroup: Rachel Vagts (Chair), Hillel Arnold, Lynda DeLoach, Jodi Koste, and Alan Lefever Online Access Subgroup: Rebecca Bizonet (Chair), Beverly Allen, Lisa Carter, Erin Lawrimore, and Wade Wyckoff Our final report to the Council (http:// www2.archivists.org/groups/annual-meetingtask- force/final-report-of-annual-meeting-taskforce) recommended short- and long-term changes. Here is an overview of our findings. Guiding Impressions • Members are concerned about the cost of the meeting. We know from our research that this has been true since the Annual Meeting began. But the recent member survey also clarified that the proportion of early career members has risen in recent years. • Not surprisingly, then, creative online solutions for access to meeting content were an increasing member priority. Wi-Fi at the conference site was at the top of this list. • At the same time, we realized that many members are not aware of the factors affecting the cost of the Annual Meeting, nor SAA’s dependence on its profits for many other member benefits. • Members want greater transparency and communication about how decisions are made affecting their benefits. • Such communication would reveal that many of the changes members requested were, in fact, already happening or in process. • Many members most value the networking opportunities the Annual Meeting provides more than the educational sessions. • SAA’s resources are finite. With recommendations for additions and changes, we must also recommend subtractions. • Finally, the Annual Meeting must continually evolve and change. Some innovations will be well received and become part of the current template. Others will prove not to be a great fit for our membership and can be abandoned to try other methods. We should keep trying new things! Some Highlights from Our Research The Meeting Model subgroup outlined four functional requirements for all conference venues: 1. Availability of quick lunch and snack options nearby; how far are most people willing to go for food and snacks during the day? 2. Hotels available nearby at multiple price points. 3. Wi-Fi available, whether free or available for purchase. 4. Ease of travel to the location (i.e., is the city a travel hub?) To ensure choice among multiple transportation modes (e.g., air, bus, train, car). The Meeting Content subgroup surveyed the many new models for sharing information among members, focusing on “structured sharing” formats such as unconferences, Pecha Kucha, world cafes, and the lightning sessions that have been well received at the past several Annual Meetings. These informal sessions facilitate networking opportunities, but require a different kind of leadership and preparation as well as room capacity and setup. At the other end of the spectrum, the group recommended focused debates and juried paper sessions. The Social Responsibility subgroup learned that SAA has been actively tracking fair labor practices of its venues for some time, and they contributed contract language that may assist us when future difficulties arise—often years after contracts have been signed. They also noted that local service projects are already becoming a firm part of Annual Meeting planning. And the Online Access group worked closely with the SAA office to share research on virtual conferencing and online access during the meeting, Wi-Fi options, and access to past meeting content. Comments at the task force table this year showed how members appreciated this year’s program app and Wi-Fi. If you haven’t noticed, access to conference recordings from 2006 to 2011 already is provided via SAA’s website (http:// www2.archivists.org/conference)! The task force found both the Council and SAA staff to be very supportive, helping us locate information and individuals who could point us to information that we then incorporated into our final report. Staff listened closely to our initial thoughts and immediately began to incorporate some of our suggestions into the planning for the 2012 meeting in San Diego and beyond. You may have noticed from the Call for Session Proposals for the 2014 Joint Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, that many of the suggestions for alternative session models were actively solicited. And you will see even greater changes when the annual meeting moves to Cleveland, Ohio, and we meet for the first time at a convention center. We’re confident that there will be additional changes to the program because two of the task force subgroup chairs are the incoming co-chairs of the 2015 Program Committee. Out of experimentation comes learning.Based on the Council’s response to our final report (http://www2.archivists.org/news/ 2013/council-adopts-principles-and-prioritiesfor- continuously-improving-annual-meeting), we expect to see a continuation of changes as SAA accepts the view that the Annual Meeting must continue to evolve to meet members’ evolving needs. Perhaps not all of our recommendations will work. And not all of them are financially possible for an organization of our size and funding. One of the greatest lessons that our group learned is the clear necessity of listening to and communicating with members so that there is a clearer understanding of what you value the most. Please remember that it is a two-way street. SAA needs to hear from members about what works and what does not work. You have contributed by writing your comments on the butcher paper at our registration-area table—and by responding to the online attendee survey in record numbers! Please continue to provide feedback whenever SAA asks for comments. We are grateful to the task force members for their outstanding efforts in developing the report. The SAA Council, the staff—and especially you, the members—will bring our recommendations to fruition. Please take these ideas and run with them!
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