AFS Annual Meeting Plans Adapt to 2021 Needs

Annual Meeting News
mural on brick wall says Harrisburg in large letters
A Sprocket Mural Works mural at the Midtown Cinema in Harrisburg, PA. Photo courtesy of Sean Simmers, July 12, 2016

We are adapting our 2021 Annual Meeting plans as we navigate the present moment of the COVID-19 pandemic and its ripple effects on our programs and institutions.

We are proceeding with both an in-person gathering in Harrisburg, and a virtual meeting for those who cannot attend in person. We will push back the proposal timeline, with a new deadline of April 30, to give all of us more time to see how the situation develops in the coming weeks and months. Further details are still to be worked out as the situation emerges.

This decision has been driven by our steadfast dedication to keeping our meeting safe and accessible to as many people as possible.

As much as we might wish to gather as we have in the past, it’s not too soon to say that circumstances will limit the scale of our customary in-person meeting this year.

  • There is consensus among conference travel industry leaders and association colleagues that safety measures, including social distancing, will remain in place for some time, certainly through the end of 2021.
  • In our survey of prospective attendees’ preferences, half of the survey respondents said they would have concerns about travel, even if they have received the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Setting health concerns aside, significant numbers of respondents cited other obstacles to meeting in person, including travel restrictions (49%) or other travel concerns (42%), financial barriers (45%), and schedule inflexibility (33%).
  • If social distancing remains in place, as current news suggests will continue to be necessary, our meeting spaces can’t accommodate our usual attendance safely.

We see this plan not just as a necessity, though, but a real opportunity to strive for the best of both worlds for the widest range of participants.

Our Harrisburg planning committee continues to plan a strong program, including virtual programming throughout the year. Those who travel can enjoy interacting with the local scene and with each other, but virtual options planned by our regional committee will offer a chance to engage intellectually and virtually with the place and the priorities of the 2021 meeting. As usual, details about the program will be available later this summer.

In addition, we will offer a virtual program for those who can’t travel. Like last year, the virtual program will offer an array of keynote presentations, panels, and social and networking events, as well as content tied to Harrisburg. The 2020 virtual annual meeting was very well received (80% of survey respondents rated it 8 out of 10 or higher), and we expect that the learning curve will favor us all in planning an even better program for 2021.

As you consider how you might participate in 2021, we encourage you to think about innovative ways to take advantage of the unique opportunity that each meeting mode affords. Given travel limitations, more meeting attendees will participate virtually. Be creative! How can virtual sessions best advance your work? Is this the year to invite colleagues to present who might be unable to participate in an ordinary year? Perhaps some sessions could embrace the problem-solving spirit of our time, and focus perspectives and discussion around specific challenges, works-in-progress, or collaborative skill sharing.

We realize that circumstances that affect your own planning are likely to change in the coming months. For that reason, as noted above, we are pushing back our usual proposal submission window as late as we can, until April 30. We will issue the call for papers, with instructions about how to register and submit proposals, in the coming weeks.

Why can’t we wait even longer? In short, planning an annual meeting takes time, not just because of the amount of work for the planners, but also because we must line up contracts with meeting service providers well in advance. The timing of this decision is driven, in part, by our existing contract for conference space, which includes increasing penalties for changes as the meeting nears. The AFS Executive Board has worked diligently to assure that decisions around our annual meeting are serving our members as best as possible as well as protecting the financial health of the organization. Thanks to this work last year and now, we are weathering the storm and well positioned to serve our members.

For more about this and other questions, see our 2021 Annual Meeting FAQ. This is a work in progress; if you don’t see your question, contact Lorraine at  [email protected]. She can tell you more, and grow our FAQ for others.

Like last year, financial support will be available to those who need assistance to participate in the meeting or membership. We will provide more details when we release the call for proposals.
 If you have other questions, please contact our offices by email at [email protected]. We will share new information with you as it develops, and post all meeting news on the  2021 Annual Meeting page.

We sometimes make mistakes, and we are happy to correct any errors that you may come across on our site. If you find an error, please let us know using the “submit a correction” link.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Share your news

Have some important news to share? We can help you get it out there! Fill out the submission form and send it our way.