Survey Respondents Report Mixed Feelings about In-Person and Virtual Meetings
Our recent Annual Meeting Planning survey results have given us valuable insights into how we can best serve participants’ needs as we assess the continuing impact of the pandemic on our 2021 plans.
Reactions are mixed on most questions, but some trends stand out:
- despite clear interest in the possibility of meeting in person, uncertainty about travel dominates.
- though respondents clearly identify issues with meeting virtually, most are willing or interested in participating in that mode.
The survey garnered 164 total responses. Here is a summary of the results, by question:
- A quarter of respondents are willing to travel in the fall, while almost as many are not willing to travel then. Just over half of respondents said they can’t make that decision yet.
- 50% of respondents said they may be willing to travel this year, but would need to wait until summer or later to commit.
- 26% of respondents said that at this point they are likely to attend.
- 19% of respondents said they are unwilling or unable to travel.
- Concern about COVID-19 remains the single greatest barrier to meeting in-person, but other issues also create notable obstacles. Responses also convey that most prospective attendees are not hampered by lack of interest or needing to present to attend.
- 91% of respondents said COVID-19 is an obstacle to participation: 84% called it a “big obstacle,” and an additional 7% called it a “small obstacle.”
- 49% said travel restrictions are an obstacle: 38% said “big obstacle,” and an additional 11% said “small obstacle.” 20% said this is not an obstacle.
- 45% said financial barriers are an obstacle: 14% said “big obstacle,” and 31% said “small obstacle.” 42% said this is not an obstacle.
- 42% said other travel concerns are an obstacle: 17% said “big obstacle,” and 26% said “small obstacle.” 28% said this is not an obstacle.
- 33% said schedule inflexibility is an obstacle: 5% said “big obstacle,” and 28% said “small obstacle.” 40% said this is not an obstacle.
- 53% said that not presenting is not an obstacle, though 12% said that it is (5% big obstacle, and 17% small obstacle)
- 76% said lack of interest is not an obstacle to participation. 3% said it is an obstacle (1% big obstacle, 2% small obstacle).
- Respondents are evenly divided about whether they would be comfortable traveling If they were vaccinated before the meeting.
- Half of respondents have concerns about travel, regardless of their vaccination status.
- 44% of respondents would have concerns about travelling even if they are vaccinated.
- 6% will not travel even if they are vaccinated.
- 47% of respondents would attend an in-person conference if they are vaccinated.
- Half of respondents have concerns about travel, regardless of their vaccination status.
- The overwhelming majority of respondents (93%) would be willing or quite likely to attend virtual sessions or events in 2021.
- 52% of respondents are quite likely to attend virtual programming.
- 41% more are willing to attend virtual programming.
- 8% of respondents are not likely to attend virtual programming.
- Almost half of respondents are interested in giving a virtual presentation this year; the remainder is split almost evenly between those who are very interested and those who are not interested.
- 48% of respondents are somewhat interested.
- 30% of respondents are very interested.
- 27% of respondents are not interested.
- Overall, the barriers to a virtual meeting are fewer than for an in-person meeting, and the chief barriers named may be more manageable for many respondents (“small obstacles,” rather than “big obstacles”). The greatest concentration of concern centers on individuals’ overloaded or inflexible personal or work schedules, which are bigger problems in the context of the virtual option than for an in-person meeting.
- 47% of respondents said being busy or distracted is an obstacle: 15% called it a “big obstacle,” and an additional 32% called it a “small obstacle.” 28% said it is not an obstacle.
- 47% said schedule inflexibility is an obstacle: 10% said “big obstacle,” and an additional 37% said “small obstacle.” 32% said it is not an obstacle.
- While 34% said a dislike of the virtual mode is an obstacle (8% said “big obstacle,” and an additional 26% said “small obstacle), 54% said it is not an obstacle.
- While 17% said financial barriers are an obstacle (5% said “big obstacle,” and an additional 12% said “small obstacle”), 73% said this is not an obstacle. (See also the last question, in which the number or respondents willing to contribute to the participation of others is greater than the number of participants who would require assistance.)
- While 15% said technical capacity is an obstacle (1% said “big obstacle,” and 13% said “small obstacle”), 73% said this is not an obstacle.
- While 10% said that lack of interest is (2% “big obstacle,” 8% said “small obstacle”), 74% said this is not an obstacle.
- Most respondents prefer for the conference to consist of more, shorter days as opposed to a few long days, and for it to occur during one week, as opposed being spread over multiple weeks.
- 72% of respondents said more, shorter days would be very or somewhat appealing, while only 13% of respondents said more, shorter days would be very or somewhat unappealing.
- 40% of respondents said a few long days would be very or somewhat appealing, while an almost equal 39% of respondents said a few long days would be very or somewhat unappealing.
- 76% of respondents said it would be very or somewhat appealing to have the conference during one week, while only 7% of respondents said a single week would be very or somewhat unappealing.
- 26% of respondents said it would be very or somewhat appealing to have the conference spread over multiple weeks, while 53% of respondents said spreading the conference out would be very or somewhat unappealing.
- When asked about scheduling options, most respondents prefer the afternoon, followed by morning and then evening. Weekdays are more convenient for more respondents than the weekend.
- 42% of respondents said afternoon is most convenient.
- 30% of respondents said morning is most convenient.
- 22% of respondents said evening is most convenient.
- At least 72% would definitely or probably attend each weekday.
- At least 41% would definitely or probably attend each weekend day.
- Most respondents would be willing to pay recent AFS registration rates for a virtual meeting. A quarter would be willing to pay higher rates, while a lesser number would not be able to pay recent rates.
- 60% of respondents would be able/willing to pay recent rates.
- 26% of respondents would be willing to pay higher rates in order to contribute to the costs of the meeting.
- 14% of respondents would not be able or willing to pay recent rates, but would be willing to pay less.
Less than half of total respondents (65 out of 164) answered our final, open-ended question, which asked for comments and suggestions related to annual meeting management or to the prospects for respondents’ participation. Many written responses reinforced the data above, but others added new observations. Below is a collection of recurrent themes among these responses, as well as a few salient excerpted quotations.
- Respondents largely consider last year’s virtual meeting a success and point to various advantages of the virtual format. (10 responses mentioned this theme.)
- “Last year, I thought it worked really well to have all the section meetings on Zoom in the month leading up to the conference. It freed up time during the conference and created connections in advance, put us in an AFS mindset, and made us eager to see each other again.”
- “Last year’s meeting worked well and might be the most appropriate scenario for one more year.”
- “This year’s meeting was very well managed, both as an event and in terms of facilitating electronic access.”
- “We had the best attendance at the Historic Preservation forum to date when virtual.”
- “I welcome wholeheartedly the chance to participate from the UK.”
- The virtual format presents unique challenges regarding sustained engagement and participation in synchronous sessions (“Zoom fatigue”: 6 responses; managing time zones: 4 responses).
- “Time zone differences were a problem, but there is a trade-off between being able to attend some sessions remotely and the possibility of not attending a physical meeting at all due to work and family commitments.”
- Work, teaching, childcare, family, and other responsibilities continue to present challenges for members as they try to participate in a virtual meeting. (6 responses mentioned these challenges.)
- “Childcare and other family responsibilities will keep me from participating as much as I would like to.”
- “It was very hard for me to attend most meetings last year because of my teaching+work schedule.”
- “The virtual gets hard because when not traveling, work does not see me as ‘away’ at a conference and so I have to keep up with all my work, plus try to attend a virtual meeting.”
- “I find that virtual conferences work best for me when I treat them like f2f conferences: I cancel classes for 2-3 days and focus solely on the conference.”
- Financial circumstances vary; some express concerns about financial hardship, while other members are looking for ways they can contribute to support the participation of others. (4 responses mentioned financial circumstances.)
- “Financial limitation is the biggest barrier to my participation in AFS activities.”
- “In terms of payment, if people with more resources can pay more, we could help people with less resources.”
- Recording sessions increases accessibility, reducing the problems presented by concurrent sessions. (5 responses mentioned on-demand recordings)
- “I value being able to go back to view the virtual presentations, especially when sessions are offered at the same time and one cannot attend both or all.”
- “I really enjoyed being able to access the session on my own time. That is what made the meeting most accessible to me.”
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