When you type “how to organize an academic conference” into Google…


…you are given the option to search “how to organize an acapella group.”  Obviously, this discovery can lead down a fairly precipitous link-clicking rabbit hole… but I digress.

In the last couple of days, I’ve been amazed, encouraged, and humbled by the online conversations that have emerged from Shane’s post about recent changes to the SEAC submission process. Via email, on Facebook, and in the comments on this blog, all sorts of folks are mobilizing for the improvement of SEAC, in no small  part because it is an organization that, generally and only-slightly-hyperbolically, is beloved by its membership. While Matt sparked some debate about ways to improve the quality of papers submitted to the conference, it seems to me that the issue that started the whole discussion – limits on the number of papers one can submit as a non-first author – could initially be addressed by improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the conference organization process.   Fortunately, in A.D. 2013, technology could help us out on this front.

Let me preface this whole thing by saying that I do not consider myself to be especially tech-savvy, at least for someone who came of age alongside the internet. As a result, I might not fully appreciate the  logistical or financial challenges in implementing some of the ideas below; in reality, they might be more trouble than they are worth. But, taking Matt’s lead, I hope this will spark conversations that will render us all better prepared to make substantive proposals for change.  So, just spitballin’ here…

(1) Conference planning software: According to Google, such programs exist. No idea about their cost/utility, but if creating a program in which a first author is not scheduled for two papers simultaneously is a major hurdle, then maybe such software could help. Given the perceived increase in collaboration among the younger generation of southeastern archaeologists (see Shane’s post), attempting to avoid all overlaps for second, third, or fourth authors might be unfeasible no matter what, but making sure that no one is slated to read in two places at once is surely doable if people are limited to one or two first-author submissions (note – not necessarily easy, but at least doable).

(2) Delegating through Google drive: My quick and dirty Google recon led me to some advice and reflections from conference organizers that all emphasized the importance of teamwork in the planning process. All that said, in my experience, much-lauded “teamwork” can easily devolve into “herding cats” if delegation isn’t managed through fairly constant feedback. To that end, future conference planners might find it useful to work collaboratively on something like Google Drive, which can track their contributions to planning materials as they are completed. This might also be a viable tool for session organizers and participants – if groups of presenters can have an easier time getting their ducks are in a row, it seems like organizers would also benefit.

(3) Digital conference materials: Shane and I both mentioned this earlier but I think this might be one of the quickest/easiest/best-bang-for-our-buck changes we could institute for SEAC. Could we give members the ability to opt out of receiving a paper program (perhaps just a box to click during registration) in favor a digital program they could access on their tablets, smartphones, computers, etc.? Of course, a shift like that isn’t for everyone, but some might actually prefer this option. Plus, it could reduce printing costs, and it would be hella green.

Certainly, there are other possibilities – please, propose them in the comments! As we keep this ball rolling, it might also be worth considering how else we can use 21st century tech and connectivity to improve the SEAC experience beyond the conference planning stages. Anyone up for live-tweeting in Tampa? (Full disclosure – I barely know what twitter is, but still, I think this could be an interesting SEAC Underground initiative…)