As someone who attends at least five or six scholarly communications and infrastructure conferences each year, in theory I should be very skeptical of the need for more. But, in fact, I’m finding that some of the newer meetings I’ve been attending recently are among my favorites. Perhaps it’s because these late entrants to the wonderful world of scholarly communications conferences realize that they have to make more of an effort in terms of content, format, and diversity of participants. And/or perhaps the changes that we’re witnessing in our community have highlighted some genuine gaps in the traditional round of conferences.
Whatever the reasons, I’d like to share with you some information about five of the new(ish) wave of meetings for our community and my thoughts on why — based on my own experience and/or that of colleagues and friends — they are likely to stay the course.
In the order in which they happen, first up, and near and dear to my heart, is PIDapalooza (Lisbon, Portugal – January 29-30, 2020). This annual “open festival of persistent identifiers,” co-hosted by California Digital Library, Crossref, DataCite, and my former organization, ORCID, does what it says on the can. Rather than following the traditional conference format of 60-90 minute sessions with formal presentations and panel discussions, PIDapalooza is a fun and fast-paced meeting with three parallel tracks of 30-minute sessions with an emphasis on audience interaction, discussion, and Q&A. The festival theme is taken quite seriously — from the name badges and wristbands, to a PIDapalooza playlist and local performers! Originally intended to bring together people in the community who are already familiar with persistent identifiers, whether as creators, curators, or consumers, PIDapalooza also set out to challenge the idea that research infrastructure is a bit, well, boring. Four years on I’d say that it has pretty much proved its point; it has become a fixture on many PID people’s calendars. So, if you’re interested in how persistent identifiers are being — or could be — used to build and maintain a more robust research information infrastructure, and if you’re willing to throw yourself into the PIDapalooza spirit, then this is the meeting for you.
Somewhat unfortunately, the next two meetings take place at the same time next year (though hopefully this won’t be the case in future). The first NISO Plus conference and the fifth Researcher to Reader conference are both scheduled for late February 2020.
Researcher to Reader (London, England – February 24-25, 2020) is the increasingly popular successor to what used to be the annual conference of the Association of Subscription Agents & Intermediaries (ASA). I’ve never attended either meeting myself, but feedback on R2R has been very positive, and I’ve also heard lots of good things about it from friends and colleagues who have participated. It aims to be “the premier forum for discussion of the international scholarly content supply chain – bringing knowledge from the Researcher to the Reader,” and it does so by encouraging collaboration and conversation between those working across the whole spectrum of scholarly communications (from researcher to reader!). R2R takes a multidisciplinary approach and attracts a high caliber of speakers from around the world. There is a strong emphasis on networking, as well as many other opportunities for interaction, including a choice of five different workshops, each of which meets three times over the two days to discuss their chosen topic
NISO Plus (Baltimore, MD, USA – February 23-25, 2020) grew out of the NISO/NFAIS merger earlier this year (full disclosure, I have recently joined NISO as their Director of Community Engagement). It’s a version of what used to be the NFAIS annual conference (which I also never attended), but in what we hope will be a new and exciting form. We want NISO Plus to bring together a much wider range of organizations and functions than most scholarly communications events — not just publishers, vendors, and librarians, but also archivists, product managers, metadata specialists, electronic resource managers, and others who are often left out of the wider conversations in our industry. And we are experimenting with a slightly different format — each of the topic sessions will be followed immediately by a lengthy discussion period, so that attendees and presenters can dive more deeply into the issues being covered, discuss their concerns, suggest possible solutions, and agree some concrete next steps. Our hope is that NISO Plus will help us collectively identify and solve our community’s existing problems and, even more importantly, to kickstart the conversations we need to be having in order to prevent future problems from occurring.
Next up is Transforming Research, held annually in September/October since 2017, most recently in Washington, DC, USA at the Institute for International Science and Technology Policy (and currently seeking a host for 2020). I attended the 2018 meeting, hosted by Brown University, and was impressed by the range of speakers and topics, both of which were a bit different from more traditional meetings. That’s because the organizers cast their net quite widely in terms of both speakers and attendees, in order to explore research communication both within our community and with those who benefit from it, such as patients, policymakers, and the broader public. Transforming Research’s goal is to address the pressures, policies, and opportunities that drive transformation of the global research endeavor — with a particular focus on research impact. For example, the most recent meeting included a keynote by Carlos de Brito Cruz, Scientific Director of São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), Brazil and Chair of the Global Research Council, who spoke about his own research on how research is evaluated. Unlike the other conferences covered here, all TR sessions are plenaries, the approach is similarly inclusive. Everyone is invited to share their own perspectives and insights, and time is built into the schedule to enable debate and discussion between speakers and the audience — according to fellow Chef, Charlie Rapple, it really works!
The last meeting on my list — the FORCE11 annual conference — is also the most well-established, having recently celebrated its fifth anniversary (Edinburgh, Scotland – October 15-17, 2019; the next is in Donostia San Sebastián, Spain – October 19-21, 2020). Having attended this meeting in 2017 and 2018, I think that, intentionally or not, it is in many ways a role model for this new wave of scholarly communications events. A self-described “community of scholars, librarians, archivists, publishers and research funders that has arisen organically to help facilitate the change toward improved knowledge creation and sharing,” FORCE11 has embraced the notion that collective action is the best approach if we really want to effect the changes that are needed in scholarly communications. Their meetings do a great job of bringing together individuals and organizations with different perspectives to tackle common problems. They emphasize inclusion, diversity, and the value of open discussion, where everyone’s views are equally welcome, and the sessions are typically inclusive, informal, and interactive.
So, will these meetings become fixtures on our annual calendar of must-attend events? I hope and believe the answer is yes. Because what they all have in common is a much-needed focus on inclusion — bringing together parts of our community that don’t often have opportunities to interact with each other to share their experiences and learn from one another in a relatively intimate setting (100-250 people). And to do so in ways that are more intentionally interactive than many of the more well-established meetings. That’s not to say that other industry conferences are failing in these respects. For example, the SSP annual meeting (Boston, MA, USA – May 27-29, 2020) stands out as being especially welcoming to a wider range of functions and career levels than most other meetings, while APE (Berlin, Germany – January 13-15, 2020) has done a great job of including funders and policy-makers. But these newer meetings have all been launched specifically to encourage and support engagement with the widest possible range of participants in scholarly communications, and to do so in unusual or innovative ways. Rather than serving up more of the same, which the more established conferences already do well, they are seeking new ways to engage. And in doing so, they are enabling new voices to be heard, whether as speakers, participants, or organizers. That’s got to be a good thing!
So, what do you think? Will you be adding any of these to your own calendar of events? Do you have any feedback you’d like to share about your own experience attending them? And do you have any recommendations for other new(ish) meetings that I and The Scholarly Kitchen’s readers may not know about? I look forward to hearing your comments!