After proposing my first session at a conference with Jan-Hendrik, and, in particular, after his recent post about a forthcoming conference at LSE and Hendrik’s reflections about this year’s ISA annual meeting, I started to wonder if anyone writes on how to make conferences better?
I wrote in my comment to Jan:
This reminds me of something I have always wanted to know more people’s opinions on: WHAT MAKE A GOOD CONFERENCE GOOD AND WHAT MAKES A BAD CONFERENCE BAD??? Seriously, I have been to so many conferences and sometimes they are outstanding (networking opportunities, good papers, etc.) and sometimes they are terrible (poor attendance, bad food, etc.).
Perhaps you have unlocked one of the first possible answers. You write above: “how can a forum that adopts the “social studies of —” title gather people to talk about finance, crisis and IT without any recognizable input from another “social studies of —” field, namely the “social studies of finance”? “
Perhaps this is one of the characteristics: too many off-topic scholars as a ratio to on-topic scholars (in your case, all social studies of X with out any sociology of financial market folks).
This should be an ongoing blog topic: WHAT MAKE A GOOD CONFERENCE GOOD AND WHAT MAKES A BAD CONFERENCE BAD?
I wonder: What makes a good conference good? What makes a bad conference bad?
*BUT MORE THAN THAT, can you control these characteristics as to improve a conference or conferences as a whole?*
You have to imagine the major funding agencies such as the US-based National Science Foundation or the DEU-based DFG would be interested in knowing whether or not conferences can be improved, and if so, how. Conferences make-up a massive proportion of all scientific communication. Therefore, improving them systematically over time would be an obviously good thing. Perhaps there is something about the size of the conference that matter or perhaps the setting…
So, if I think of conferences over the last year or two that have been really good, here is what I have:
It was set in Trento amid the Dolomite Mountains. I was “forced” to visit Verona and the greater Veneto (in particular, Valpolicella wine country, home to Bertani, perhaps my favorite winery) after the conference and Milano before the conference. Still, what made this conference so wonderful was the carefully put together sessions — the dual session on health technologies that Jan and I participated in was just great and also where I first met Wouter Mensink and learned about his exciting work on eHealth. The building too was fantastic — the views out the window were great, but not distracting because the infrastructure was fantastic; great projectors, large clear images, good spaces, good seating, etc. Likewise, the sessions on IT put together by my the bright and friendly Gian Marco Compagnola, which featured papers from among others Neil Pollock and Antonios Kaniakakis. Dare I also say that the food, which can be doubly attributed, both to EASST administrators and the the great University of Trento, was unlike anything I have ever seen at a conference — and better than any food I will likely see at any future conference.
What can be learend from this?
A. Good setting — something about how embedding the conference in a particular location or setting influences attendance and expectations.
B. Careful planners — getting good people to organize sessions is no easy task, although there are few incentives to do this really well, unless I am missing something.
C. Excellent food — this is, frankly, something more conferences should think about. I remember saying to Jan, jokingly, the food was so good it actually helped us to think more clearly (although that might have been counteracted by the wine available with lunch). Also, there was day-long excellent Italian coffee available.
So, what else makes a good conference good? And, dare we discuss: what makes a bad one bad?