A new report from Ithaka S+R explores the future of in-person vis-a-vis virtual annual meetings/events/conferences. Below is a summary, but it’s worth the time to read it in full!

For the past several years, the decision to hold hybrid or virtual meetings was dictated by outside forces. Now, it is a matter of choice. Overall, the virtual meetings of 2020-22 were much more successful than anticipated. If they mostly failed to provide the rich social and networking experiences that in-conference meetings provide, virtual and hybrid conferences were more accessible to a much wider, and more diverse, community of scholars. As the public health situation improves, societies will need to make difficult decisions about the future of one of their most important activities.

This week, Ithaka S+R and JSTOR labs released findings from a research project on the future of annual meetings, conducted in partnership with 17 scholarly societies and with funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Our report emphasizes the importance of aligning conference formats with a society’s goals and values. The complex logistics and finances of organizing annual meetings, the competing needs of members, and the weight of legacy formats make committing to reimagining annual meetings difficult for most societies. Even so, our findings suggest that new conference modalities provide substantial opportunities to increase the impact and accessibility of scholars, build and empower diverse research communities, and improve the sustainability of societies.

We hope our report, which provides recommendations for societies, scholars, and funders as well as an overview of innovative conference models, will help secure the future vitality of annual meetings and other academic conferences.