As the pandemic recedes into memory, scholarly societies find themselves at a crossroads. For the past several years, the decision to hold hybrid or virtual meetings was dictated by outside forces: it is now a matter of choice. Overall, the virtual meetings of 2020-22 were much more successful than anticipated. Though they mostly failed to provide the rich social and networking experiences that in-conference meetings provide, virtual and hybrid conferences were more accessible to a much wider, and more diverse, community of scholars. As the public health situation improves, societies will need to make difficult decisions about the future of one of their most important activities.

Today, we are excited to release findings from a research project on the future of scholarly meetings. In partnership with 17 scholarly societies, Ithaka S+R and JSTOR Labs led a series of strategic discussions and design-informed workshops to explore the challenges facing scholarly conferences and opportunities for change. Together we examined potential financial models for virtual and hybrid meetings and how to best work with governing boards and meet member needs.

What is the future of scholarly meetings? For societies, decisions about conference formats are directly tied to questions about the current and future composition of their membership, the success of organizational commitments to diversity, and the long-term relevance and sustainability of scholarly societies. Whatever decisions individual societies make, the future of conferences is deeply tied to the future of scholarly societies.

Our report highlights key findings in four areas:

  • Scholarly societies have long traditions of hosting conferences, yet too often convention rather than purpose drives decisions on content and format. Experiments with conference design should begin with a clear articulation of purpose.
  • The structure and content of meetings send strong signals about an organization’s priorities and values. Decisions-making about conferences should be calibrated to reflect a society’s mission and goals.
  • Making significant changes to meeting formats involves risk, but new conference modalities provide even greater opportunities to increase the impact and accessibility of scholars, build and empower diverse research communities, and improve the sustainability of societies.
  • Hybrid conferences are already here, but hybrid is best envisioned as a changeable cluster of possibilities rather than a single format.

We thank the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for funding this research. We also thank the following scholarly societies for participating in our cohort:

  • American Arachnological Society
  • American Association of Geographers
  • American Geophysical Union
  • American Historical Association
  • American Philosophical Association
  • American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
  • American Society of Civil Engineers
  • American Society of Plant Biologists
  • American Sociological Association
  • American Statistical Association
  • Bibliographical Society of America
  • Genetics Society of America
  • Middle Eastern Studies Association
  • Mormon History Association
  • Population Association of America
  • The Oceanography Society
  • The Protein Society