Our Continuing Experimentation to Improve Our Annual Meeting

This post was written by council member Michelle Light with assistance from council member Tim Pyatt. I thank them and the other members of Council made suggestions for this post and who have responded to questions and concerns from section and roundtable leaders about forthcoming changes for the 2015 annual meeting.

In 2013 the SAA Annual Meeting Task Force submitted a thoughtful and forward thinking report that gave the Society a number of recommendations for improving our annual meeting. If you haven’t read the report, you should!

Your Council and staff have taken this report very seriously and are working to test and implement key elements, such as different locations and housing options. This year we are supplying AV for all roundtable meetings as an experiment. For 2015 we are experimenting with another idea – eliminating the session endorsement process.

One reason we did this was in keeping with the Annual Meeting Task Force recommendations. We wanted to experiment with allowing the 2015 Program Committee to have more flexibility to develop a responsive, creative program. Suggestions such as these prompted our willingness to experiment:

* “There also seems to be dissatisfaction with SAA’s traditional programming and a concomitant desire to experiment with new ways of sharing and delivering information.”

* “While many SAA members voiced a need for innovative programming, others expressed dissatisfaction with both the content and quality of presentations in our traditional sessions.”

* “At all times, the subcommittee was guided by the idea that the Society needs to be adaptive and should experiment with new content models.”

When the SAA Council accepted the task force’s report, we adopted the Principles and Priorities for Continuously Improving the Annual Meeting

We committed to this culture of experimentation so that we could find ways to improve and meet member needs and expectations:

* “We will embrace a culture of experimentation and will be willing to take calculated risks with respect to the Annual Meeting.  No aspect of the meeting will be off limits based on “tradition.””

* “We will actively publicize to members all efforts to consider, implement, and evaluate the effectiveness of new approaches.”

We hope this change will allow SAA component groups to focus on their core interests and activities. As a former section and roundtable leader, I often found the endorsement process to be challenging and confusing. More than once I was caught in a position in which my groups had developed two or more session proposals and outside groups were also asking for endorsements. It put the section or roundtable in the unenviable position of not endorsing a session from one of its members or not endorsing a quality session from outside of the group.

Another reason we decided to make this change was the impact on SAA staff time. The endorsement process is staff time intensive and while our SAA staff are terrific, they are also stretched thin. In order to achieve some of our biggest priorities in the areas of advocacy, education, website redesign, and member services, we needed to figure out where we could free up some staff time so they could focus on some of the strategic initiatives. Our current endorsement experiment is one example of that effort.

As a reminder, SAA component groups are still highly encouraged to create and submit session proposals for 2015. That has not changed and I know the program committee is counting on your great ideas. And the Council is also counting on you to give us feedback as we experiment with the annual meeting format. After all, it is OUR annual meeting and we want the meeting to support your needs and interests.

I want to again echo Michelle and Tim’s comments. Removing endorsements does not keep sections and roundtables from developing programs for the conference. It also does not stop a section or roundtable from encouraging members from developing a session or asking for advice or information from section and roundtable leaders to help make the session better.

Also please note this is an experiment for the 2015 conference. After the 2015 conference, Council will review and make decisions on next steps.

In addition I hope that sections and roundtables will explore other ways to share their knowledge with the rest of the profession. This may include developing articles for Archival Outlook, supporting colleagues who want to develop articles for the American Archivist, or developing educational programming for SAA on a specific topic area of interest. I hope that sections and roundtables will take this opportunity to think about how they can support their members and expand the archival knowledge base.

We all look forward to reading your comments and questions.

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