Update from the Virtual Components of the Annual Meeting Task Force 2
The Virtual Components of the Annual Meeting Task Force 2 has been meeting on a biweekly basis since May. We have been looking at the survey data from the SAA’s online meeting and reviewing how other scholarly societies are dealing with their annual conferences, given the universal challenges posed by COVID-19 and the desire of our members to reduce their carbon footprints. Below we update you on some of the discussions we have been having.
First, we want to make sure all members are able to be part of the conversation. We invite your ideas and have created a suggestion box. Please e-mail saa.virtual.tf@gmail.com. We will not be able to reply to each message, but all submissions will be considered.
Second, we want to update you about the activities of the task force. Keeping in mind the key role the SAA Annual Meeting plays for the Society and in the professional development of our members (as detailed in our article  in the September 2021 issue of The SAA Archaeological Record), we have been working to identify which components of the SAA meeting are feasible—from financial and logistical standpoints—to offer online rather than in person. As is the case with other professional societies, our hotel agreements are fixed in place years in advance (thus through 2026), and they were negotiated before the pandemic emerged. Breaking those contracts would incur hundreds of thousands of dollars of costs for which the SAA has no budget.
One interesting postscript to the 2021 annual meeting evaluation is that the survey was issued on April 18, immediately following the meeting’s conclusion. Almost 60 respondents commented on the value of on-demand recordings. Viewing data show, however, that 95.22% of the 14,463 “sessions” (which means someone logged into the SAA 86th Annual Meeting Online meeting site) took place during the meeting dates themselves.
Given the lead time for print articles, we also want to update members about the most recent ideas that the task force is examining. We have conceived several options for future digital meetings, one of which would be to hold a smaller SAA meeting in the fall, organized around regional or topical themes, that could be held virtually. We believe that the ideal candidate for the inaugural meeting of this nature would be the SAA Conferencia Intercontinental. The SAA board has asked the Committee on the Americas to move forward with planning this effort, ideally in October 2022. If volunteers came forward, similar style meetings might be possible for other global regions in October of future years.
Many members have asked about a synchronous hybrid meeting (i.e., live broadcasting of sessions with in-person and remote participants simultaneously). The dream of the hybrid meeting would be extremely expensive, requiring the SAA to raise meeting registration rates by $400 per person. This cost comes from renting additional equipment (cameras, television screens, and speakers), expanding internet capacity to support streaming of video and sound, and technicians. As is the case for other societies, SAA commitments to hotels require that all technological interventions be hired from the hotel/conference center, which means that we would not, for example, be able to allow session chairs to stream in colleagues virtually on their own devices, or circumvent the hotel’s A/V and internet infrastructure in other ways. Before making an investment to make the entire conference hybrid, the task force is considering how the Society presenters and staff might gain more experience with this format. One possibility is to consider making the Annual Business Meeting and Awards Ceremony a synchronous hybrid session at the Chicago meeting. Although this would not solve the question of the 2022 meeting, it might be a means of experimenting in a way that will not force registration rates to climb while helping to inform us about ideas for subsequent conferences. Members of the task force are also reaching out to peer associations to explore common solutions or collaborative pathways toward more affordable hybrid conferences in the future.
Susan Chandler and Kayeleigh Sharp, Co-Chairs
October 4, 2021
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