The COVID-19 pandemic forced scholarly societies to reimagine one of their signal offerings: academic conferences. In response, societies experimented  with virtual and hybrid meeting formats on a scale that was difficult to imagine before March 2020. Societies have emerged from these experiments with an equal measure of worry and cautious optimism about the potential of these new forums to replace or supplement the traditional annual meeting. 

With generous funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Ithaka S+R and JSTOR Labs are organizing a cohort of scholarly societies to explore and develop the future of the scholarly meeting. 

An Era of Uneven Experimentation

When reflecting on how the pandemic era is disrupting the status quo of academia, one clear take away is that societies can no longer afford to focus exclusively on in-person gatherings. The potential advantages of virtual meetings–lower costs to participants and hosts, greater accessibility to a more diverse range of scholars, and a reduced carbon footprint, for example–ensure that virtual and hybrid events have long-term relevance and benefits that will extend beyond the pandemic. 

And yet the experiments begun in 2020 were not wholly successful, and sustainable blueprints and models for virtual and hybrid events remain elusive. Among the challenges societies face are how to finance and staff mixed-format meetings, and how to develop virtual and hybrid programming that can provide networking opportunities for members and serve as springboards for new scholarship.

For an in depth examination of how societies approached their annual meetings over the past 18 months, see our new report, COVID-19 and the Future of the Annual Meeting.

Join Us to Explore New Possibilities

In addition to understanding the lessons learned from recent experimentation at a time of unprecedented global challenge, it is important for societies to explore the best possibilities for the longer term. Through a combination of primary research, collaboration, and design thinking, we will bring together a group of scholarly societies to address the business, content, and membership challenges faced when developing long-term planning for multi-modal conferences. 

We are actively seeking scholarly societies to participate in this fully funded cohort project and welcome expressions of interest. Please contact Dylan Ruediger ( for more information. We plan to convene the cohort (virtually) in early 2022 and will publish a public set of recommendations at the conclusion of the project.