The letter below was sent on 25 and 26 March to all IAMCR members and all people who submitted abstracts to IAMCR Tampere 2020.
Given the rapid and unpredictable developments associated with COVID-19 at present, and the health and safety issues and constraints associated with travel and conference activity, IAMCR and our partners at Tampere University, are planning online activities described below in lieu of a face-to-face conference in Finland. We have been discussing these plans with the Local Organizing Committee in Tampere, Section and Working Group heads, and the International Council. The main points are as follows:
We will not hold an onsite face-to-face conference in July 2020
The first difficult conclusion was that we would not hold a traditional face-to-face conference in July 2020. The conditions are simply not in place and the uncertainty makes it impossible to proceed responsibly.
We will not postpone the July 2020 conference until later in the year
A second conclusion was to discard the idea of postponing the conference for a few months, which would be complicated for a variety of scheduling reasons, but especially because a postponed 2020 conference would be only months before the 2021 conference, to be held in July.
We are organizing online activities for July 2020
While we will not hold an onsite event in 2020, we believe that there are many reasons to hold an online event. These reasons include, but are not limited to making sure that IAMCR and the work of the sections and working groups continue to be present in the professional lives of our members; exploring new ways that IAMCR can help us exchange and learn from each other; ensuring that the 2,400 scholars who submitted their work to IAMCR 2020 have a chance to share it with their peers and to get the visibility and professional credit they need to advance in their careers; and creating new ways of working together as we reshape the association to better face new challenges that current events have so dramatically reminded us of.
We do not believe that a “virtual conference” with hundreds of paper presentations streamed live in dozens of “virtual rooms” is a viable option for many reasons, for instance, differing time zones, internet access problems, the lack of interactivity and informal exchange, and the unlikelihood that any of us would be willing to spend a week watching presentations on a screen. At the same time, other models have demonstrated ability to help overcome these problems.
Our online plans are experimental, realistic and attractive
Our plans for online activities include two models – Online sessions and plenaries and Online conference papers. Both of these models serve different but important functions, as explained below, with many details remaining to be worked out during the coming months.
Not all of our thirty-three sections and working groups will participate in these sessions. We are currently surveying them. We know that a majority will, however, a few have other plans or have decided to concentrate on working towards IAMCR 2021. We will let you know the results of the survey as soon as they are available.
IAMCR 2020 online sessions and plenaries
IAMCR 2020 online sessions and plenaries will be a series of high-quality pre-recorded and live sessions. At the core would be a series of pre-recorded sessions, one organised by each participating section and working group. These sessions may include presentations based on submitted abstracts, or the section or working group may decide to organise a panel around an entirely new theme, for example, about emerging scholarship around health communication and the coronavirus, or a panel made up of 4 or 5 selected members who are asked to talk about emerging research in different areas covered by the section or working group. Section heads will decide the themes, formats and speakers. There are many possibilities and creativity is encouraged.
Sessions will be 60 minutes. A typical session might include an introduction by the chair, 4 or 5 pre-recorded presentations, including slides, video clips, etc.. All sessions will be recorded and made available for viewing online during and after the event. For a period of several days after their initial airing, text-based questions, comments and dialogue will be facilitated via the platform.
Opening and closing “plenary” sessions, organised by the Tampere “hosts” of the conference, will also be featured.
The online sessions and plenaries will take place over several days beginning on 12 July, the same day that the Beijing and Tampere conference were scheduled to begin, and will be accessible online to all IAMCR members during the event and archived for later access. There will be no registration fee and the “conference” and archives will be fully accessible to all IAMCR members.
IAMCR 2020 online conference papers
IAMCR 2020 online papers will be oriented to IAMCR members who want to present and get feedback on their work and/or to get certification of their presentation of a conference paper. It will also be a valuable repository with a significant body of current work. Within this model, authors of accepted abstracts will be able to submit conference papers of 1,000 to 4,000 words. The submissions will be “curated” by the section or working group heads, who would classify them according to broad themes or organise them into “panels”. The papers will remain online for at least several weeks and the heads of the sections and working groups may name discussants and facilitate online comments and discussion. All IAMCR members with accepted abstracts will be able to “present” one conference paper. There will be a registration fee of $25 for presenters and all IAMCR members not presenting will be able to access the presentations and comment for free.
Why have we selected these models?
We think the above models are far superior to a “virtual conference” that uses a traditional conference model in a “virtual” space for several reasons, including, for IAMCR 2020 online sessions and plenaries:
- having fewer sessions allows for focus on quality and creativity;
- pre-recording presentations helps avoid last-minute technical problems that often plague fully live events;
- incorporating live sections in the sessions allows for interactivity among presenters and with viewers. Even if one presenter is lost to a technical problem, the interactive component can still proceed with the others;
- accessible options, such as live or automatic transcription or captioning can minimise language barriers.
IAMCR 2020 online conference papers offers a practical way for authors to present their conference papers online, while giving all IAMCR members the opportunity to browse the conference papers in the IAMCR 2020 repository at their convenience.
We realize that not everyone will be able or wish to participate in these activities, but they offer chances to come together as a genuinely international community of scholarship and engagement to exchange experiences, formulate questions and begin setting an agenda for the future.
The current pandemia around the world has placed us all under anxiety and obviously the stressful situation is not conducive to facing new challenges. On the other hand, the present, unprecedented situation has made media and communication issues more topical than ever. As communication scholars and practitioners, we have a moral and academic obligation to address them and considerable expertise to draw on.
We will be posting more information in the coming weeks, and sincerely hope that you remain safe and well.
Janet Wasko, President (for the Executive Board and Conference Organizing Committee)