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Posted By Laura Sawyer MA, CAE - ICA Executive Director, Tuesday, August 4, 2020
Updated: Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Coming on the heels of ICA’s first-ever virtual conference, with a long list of what worked (and what needs to be improved!), we are pleased to announce that the 2021 ICA Annual Conference, 27-31 May 2021 in Denver, Colorado, USA, will be planned from the start as a hybrid (dual online/in-person) conference. Participants will have the option to choose whether to attend either as an in-person attendee (with simultaneous access to the virtual space) or as a “virtual only” attendee using the online platform. While we hope that most participants will choose to join us in-person in Denver, we understand that access issues (health-related risks and financial strains lingering from the global pandemic among them) may lead many to be unable to attend. Offering an online option is a means of preserving access, equity, and inclusion.

COVID-19 DISCLAIMER: Obviously, if the pandemic continues/gets worse to the point where the conference cannot occur in person at all, at any time a similar process as 2020 could be utilized whereby hotel block reservations would be automatically purged and everyone could be converted to an online-only registration. The conference could then possibly move forward in an online-only capacity as it did in 2020 (with decision points for all involved to be established at a future date). For now, we are cautiously optimistic that we will go forward with a hybrid option.

This hybrid, dual-track plan of course requires extra work from the conference organizers, staff, and planners, as well as slightly more work from all presenters. 

Thank you to those of you who participated in the virtual #ica20 conference and allowed us to see what could be accomplished--and what can’t!--with very little lead time. We are working to ensure that the critiques, ideas, and positive feedback from the conference survey can be implemented as well as possible in any future online iterations. 

As promised, some more robust details are shared below. We still don’t have all the answers, but will continue to release information as it comes to light and as decisions (such as the conference’s virtual rate and the platform we will be using) are made. 


Submissions will occur, as is typical, via the ScholarOne Abstracts system, with the same basic timeline as is usual. Planners will assign reviewers as per usual, and sessions will be awarded, as usual, based on the percentage each division/interest group garners of the total number of submissions. However, five things will change here:

  1. ICA will encourage the Divisions and IGs to consider formats beyond the full paper. This can be extended abstracts (of studies that have been conducted) or pre-registered submissions (of studies to be conducted before 6 November 2020 and the conference paper re-submission in April). By encouraging these shorter formats we hope to address some of the downsides of the pandemic for researchers, which have hit parents, particularly mothers and other caregiving colleagues, disproportionately). 

  2. We will include a few additional requirements having to do with equity and inclusion, such as asking submitters to take a moment of reflection prior to hitting “submit” to examine whether they have a diverse works cited list and have considered positive and negative societal outcomes of their work.

  3. We will offer an opt-in opportunity for designating research as ‘open scholarship’.  It will not be its own category, it will simply be a way of designating one’s work as preregistered in case that is helpful to the planners.

  4. We will include a check box wherein presenters acknowledge that submitting their work comes with an acceptance of the responsibility to serve as a reviewer as well. 

  5. The submission deadline will move 5 days later, to 6 November, so that those waiting for the results of the US election on 3 November to make their decision about whether to submit may do so, given that the conference will take place this year in the US. 


Those who wish to attend the conference (in either capacity) will be able to follow the usual process, with registrations opening on 13 January concurrent with the news of acceptances. Every attendee will be able to select to attend in person or virtually at that time based on their preference. No letter or permission will be required. The in-person registration will INCLUDE virtual access to encourage everyone’s participation in the virtual aspect as well so that the virtual conference is robust. 


The fees for the two options have not yet been decided. The in-person conference fee will be no more than the registration fee for the conference in Washington, DC. The virtual conference will likely be at a discount, but that will be determined after we have determined our platform and we know the costs. Attendees may anticipate a decision on this by the time submissions open in September. 


As we book ICA hotel blocks five or more years in advance, we have a block of hotel rooms available at two conference hotels in downtown Denver: the larger Hyatt Regency and smaller Grand Hyatt, less than ten minutes’ walk from each other (similar to #ICA18 in Prague, but a shorter walk and no cobblestones, so it’s easier for those with mobility issues to get between venues).  The procedure for booking will remain the same as in recent years (ie, the link will go out first to those who have registered). It will be more important than ever to stay in the block if possible, as an unfilled block due to virtual attendees will result in attrition paid by the association to the hotel for underperformance, meaning the association must raise rates in the future. Our “free” meeting space is always contingent upon our providing sleeping rooms for the hotel, full of our attendees. We appreciate attendees helping us meet those contractual obligations so that we can keep conference registration fees from increasing. The room rate for Denver is US$169 per night for single/double occupancy. The hotels are not allowed to sell rooms at a lower rate than our contracted rate for those dates. 


Our goal is to make the virtual conference track as robust as possible without it having the in-person element. To that end, a major difference for the dual track will be that we will ask even those who are attending in person to do a recording of their talk for those who are attending virtually to watch. This is extra work, yes, but hopefully by then all of us will have become quite used to doing recordings of full lectures, so a seven- to 15-minute talk is not too big an imposition. We will ask you to upload these approximately one month prior to the conference to give our platform enough time to get everything in the right place (to avoid some of the issues we had leading up to #ICA20). We will also build reminders into the day for in-person attendees to take a moment to engage with the chat rooms, twitter feeds, etc of the online track. 


Those who choose to attend only virtually will be asked to record and upload their talk in advance, as well as using a video platform (Skype, Zoom, BlueJeans) to connect to the live session into which they have been scheduled. As we have done since the 2017 conference in San Diego and the so-called “Muslim ban” imposed by the Trump administration that year, we will ask that presenters who choose to attend/present virtually contact their session chair/moderator to come to a mutually agreeable video platform solution, test it out in advance of the conference, and make the connection in real time during the conference. You will be able to access in-person attendees’ presentations either via the live-stream of certain rooms (see below), via their pre-recorded videos of their individual talks, or via live-streamed recordings that are then uploaded. In-person attendees will receive reminders via the app to “tune in” to the virtual conference to check in and converse with the online attendees. 


An almost universal comment from the #ICA20 virtual conference survey was that while attendees were grateful that we preserved the opportunity to convene--especially for early-career scholars who need to build their CVs and get feedback from senior scholars--a virtual conference is never going to measure up to an in-person event in terms of engagement, social interaction, and networking. The in-person conference is your best choice if you’re healthy, have the ability to travel to Denver, and really value that social interaction and networking aspect. 

If instead you have health concerns (such as immune compromise) that are still a concern by the time you have to register--keeping in mind that you can decide as late as April--or you are concerned about the environmental impact of your travel, or you have limited funds that cannot be ameliorated by travel grants, then perhaps the virtual option will appeal to you. Please keep in mind, however, that as we found in the #ICA20 conference no amount of virtual chat rooms, avatar-based networking events, and sidebar chat Q&A are going to replicate the in-person conference experience. Those who were on Twitter had the best experience during #ICA20 and felt connected to their peers, so we do recommend plugging into social media and following the conference hashtags if you do opt to go virtual. 


We will “max out” the wifi and wired (if necessary) internet capabilities at the conference venue to ensure that there are minimal technical difficulties in both information going out to, and coming in from, virtual attendees. More on this later. 


As mentioned earlier, we cannot possibly live stream the contents of 27 concurrent sessions for four days, this would be an impossible and brutally expensive task for a nonprofit to undertake because it requires onsite audiovisual assistants and equipment in all 27 rooms, from 8 to 6:15pm, for five days. To some extent, those who choose to attend virtually of their own accord will have to accept that they will not be able to view 100% of the content they want to, live: however, as mentioned above, all attendees (in-person and virtual) are expected to upload videos of their presentations as well. 

While we are still determining what will be live-streamed via the synchronous channel, the obvious choices for live streaming will be the opening plenary, closing plenary, presidential address & awards ceremony, Fellows sessions, Theme sessions, the new member orientation, the SECAC meeting, and special sessions (in the past these have included the First Nations panel, the Greening of the Academy panel, the African diaspora panel, etc). Again, this is not an exhaustive list (nor do we guarantee all of the above) and we will be working with the Future of ICA Conferences task force as well as looking at the feedback on the ICA conference survey to determine other sessions that are a good fit for live streaming. It is important to note that, even if the live stream isn’t at a convenient time for you (as a virtual attendee) to watch in real time from your home, the streamed content will be made available as an asynchronous recording later, to be viewed at any time. Only one or two rooms will be equipped for streaming and we want to ensure that we choose sessions in those rooms that will appeal to the largest numbers of both virtual and in-person attendees. This means that, in the interest of fairness, individual divisions/IGs’ business meetings and top papers sessions will NOT be eligible to be live streamed in the main rooms (because there are 33 divisions/IGs, this is 66 sessions which typically all occur during the same two time slots). 


We will encourage division/IG officers to utilize “live blogging”, Twitter hashtags, and even perhaps a Slack channel to incorporate the input of virtual attendees in the business meeting, or to have them participate via a Zoom call that is connected to the live meeting, facilitated by the officers. Virtual attendees could submit questions through the Zoom chat function. How this works will be left to each division/IG’s officers to choose from a menu of ideas we will provide. 


The 2020 conference was virtual-only and therefore was able to stay open for a longer period of time than a typical four-day in-person ICA conference. We cannot, however, extend the length of our in-person conference due to the physical constraints in our contract (a different conference is immediately before us and another one is coming in right after us). Therefore, the days and duration of the virtual conference will mirror exactly the dates of the in-person conference, but we will likely (once again) leave online content up for viewing (not interaction) for all attendees (virtual and in-person) for at least a day or so after the in-person conference has come to a close, as this was a much appreciated perk during the 2020 conference. The conference will run from 27-31 May 2021 and will follow the usual pattern for ICA: Wednesday and Thursday preconferences, Thursday evening opening plenary and reception, four full days Fri/Sat/Sun/Mon, post conferences on Tuesday. 


The hours of the in-person conference will remain 8:00am to 6:15pm in the local (Denver) time zone (US Mountain Daylight Time aka MDT, which is UTC -6).  All headline sessions (like the presidential address) and timing of business meetings will follow their usual timing. Unfortunately, we cannot make sessions in Denver occur at 2:00am Denver time in order to comply with other time zones (the hotel wouldn’t allow people on the premises in the middle of the night, due to security measures), so any live streamed sessions will have to occur at the time they occur in the regular program, which may be inconvenient for you to watch in real time depending on your time zone (though they will be made available later as recordings). Please take this inconvenience into account when deciding whether to register as a virtual or in-person attendee. 


Yes! We will have a surplus of travel funding to offer for 2021 to help attendees get to the in-person conference. In addition to the US$75,000 typically offered by ICA for travel grants, we have a surplus of funds from the Hardship Fund (all HF donors agreed that the overage would go to the travel grants fund) to add to this. We encourage you to apply if you meet the criteria for travel grant funding, which will remain the same as in prior years. The application will go live on 13 January, the same day we announce acceptances. 


In addition, new this year we will also make available ICA funds for local travel and technology grants in order to enable additional participants to attend virtually. For instance, if a cohort of attendees in one city find themselves unable to travel to Colorado due to distance, funding, or any other reason, they could choose to all gather at a local university to have a local “watch party” and attend the conference virtually-but-together. We will make funds available to the host institution if needed for making this possible. We want to be clear, however, that this is not meant to encourage people to stay home! We would prefer to welcome everyone to the conference in person if they are able and are comfortable to do so. We simply want to ensure that no one is unable to access the conference if they can’t travel and their home internet capabilities are inadequate to live streaming. The application to serve as a virtual hub will go live on 13 January (the day we announce acceptances). 


While we are proud of what we accomplished with very little lead time in 2020, with more time to plan for the hybrid option, we have a few “must haves” on our list for the next iteration of our virtual conference option to be a success. This may necessitate changing platforms to find something more user-friendly, so headquarters staff have initiated an RFP process for that. 

Our must-haves: 

  • we MUST have at least three weeks between the deadline for uploading videos and the beginning of the conference

  • the video upload system MUST send a confirmation email (not just a pop-up confirmation) to submitters of videos to eliminate duplicates (many videos were uploaded twice or three times because people weren’t sure they had gone through)

  • the video recording system MUST have a mechanism for captioning/subtitles, this is an access issue. Our efforts to strongly encourage captioning in 2020 were not as successful as we would have liked and we must do better at making it easy to comply with this. 

  • the platform MUST allow for searching by title, topic, author, and just be easier to navigate generally

  • the platform MUST notify authors/commenters when they receive new comments on their videos, or replies to comments they’ve made, for the online Q&A to actually work

  • The ICA conference staff MUST have the ability to be in the backend with the programmers in order to troubleshoot problems

This FAQ will continue to be updated as we know more, and will be located here. Questions you would like to see answered here can be sent to conference@icahdq.org. Thank you! 

Tags:  August 2020 

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