3 Conference overview

With this chapter, we aim to give a general overview of the main areas of the conference to newly-appointed organizers of useR! conferences, listing the general tasks that will be executed from the moment the organizing team and location are defined until after the conference takes place, encompassing the whole organizational responsibilities and processes. There’s a lot to do, and it can seem a bit overwhelming at first, but we hope to give you a bird’s eye view right away so that you have an idea of what’s to come and the flow and pace of different areas of organizational work.

For convenience reasons and following the organizational structure of the most recent useR! 2021, we divide the organizing team into Global Coordinators and the Organizing Committee. The Global coordinators are 5-6 people in charge of the overall processes and areas of the conference and will gather and coordinate the rest of the team.

The Organizing Committee is a larger group that will execute the tasks and subtasks (and sub-subtasks) for each area of the conference. Not every Organizing Team had the same structure, but this division is helpful to understand the overall structure and the specific processes. Organizers in charge of a specific area of the conference can be pointed to specific chapters in part two of the knowledgebase, where they will find detailed guides for their area of organizational work.

3.1 Before the Conference

  • Global Coordinators first steps
  • Gather a larger team of organizers
  • Define subteams or areas of the conference
  • Set the roles for every team or area
  • Define the mode of the conference (in-person, virtual, or hybrid), its components, and how they will integrate
  • Take key dates for planning into account

3.1.1 Initiate the conversation

The main aspects of the conference were already discussed in your proposal to the R Foundation and should guide some general first decisions.

The location, venue, and mode of the conference are some of the earliest decisions your team probably already made. Still, some important factors should be taken into account from the beginning to avoid later inconveniences:

But the most important action that the Global Coordinators have to deal with–and the single thing that will bring them closer to answering all the above questions–is gathering the Organizing Committee and defining Roles and Responsibilities within the main areas of the Conference.

3.1.2 Gather the Organizing Committee

The Organizing Committee will execute all actions of the conference preparation and will work together for almost a year. Look for Organizing Team members in your local communities of practice, especially from the Partner Communities. People from all career stages and backgrounds are welcome. Some of the areas of the conference can be contracted, and some team members may not be able to participate without remuneration. Consider the possibility to pay at least part of your team, especially people from marginalized groups who tend to be invited to do volunteer work without having the means to dedicate time and energy to the conference.

Check for balance in gender, race, and other dimensions of diversity and intersectionality in your organizing committee and all the spaces of your conference. Go beyond gender representation when diversifying your team. A diverse organizing team will make key decisions regarding program content, networking, accessibility, and other factors. That said, avoid distributing diversity, accessibility, and inclusion tasks exclusively to people from minoritized groups.

3.2 Roles and Responsibilities

Based on previous conferences, the roles can be broken down into large areas as follows:

  1. Program and Content – take care of the academic program, including inviting keynote speakers, i.e., travel organization.
  2. Finance and Budget – look for an institution to host the budget, later manage the planned budget and regularly monitor income and expenses.
  3. Sponsors – gather information on previous and potential sponsors, prepare communication about sponsorship packages, be in charge of contracts, delivery, communication, and payments.
  4. Communication and Promotion – produce the brand and graphic design for web, social media, and print, and take care of social media guidelines and presence.
  5. Technology – coordinate all things digital infrastructure: website, submission and review platforms, registration portal, if online or hybrid also a conference system, a chat platform, and video streaming or recording as needed
  6. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – take care that our community can participate and enjoy in every step of the conference process by preparing the code of conduct and the code of conduct response team, and support inclusive practices such as childcare, the scholarship and financial support programs, the community events.
  7. Accessibility – check the venue accessibility and the accessibility of digital platforms. Publish accessibility guidelines and guide presenters towards the creation of accessible material. Gather and publish the material before the conference. Coordinate captioning.
  8. Social events – take care of the social program, like the in-person gala dinner, the newbie session, and liaising with partner communities which often plan to have community meetups parallel or as part of the official schedule.
  9. Venue, Catering and Logistics
    1. Venue and catering for the conference – look for the place for the conference, including accessibility features; secure catering, good internet connection, and other AV equipment and services needed in in-person and hybrid conferences, e.g., quiet room, breastfeeding room, family room, and so on.
    2. Gala dinner and welcome reception – look for a place or a caterer if the venue is not a restaurant.

The following diagram represents the organizing committee’s sub-teams at useR! 2021, which was 100% online. There’s no need for future committees to follow this diagram to the dot. Indeed every year so far had a unique organizational structure. We provide it as a jumping-off point, so you don’t need to start from a blank page.

The general organigram for useR2021, with global coordination at the center, surrounded by the following teams: program and content, finance and budget, communication, partners and sponsors, diversity and technology. Here, partner communities belong to the partners and sponsors team, the program and content team has to organize social events and the diversity team is in charge of the code of conduct, accessibility and financial support questions

3.2.1 Work dynamics

We learned to cherish the communication within our teams as we worked on these events. There are crunch periods, and there’s a stretch of time where it seems like the list of things left to do grows with every task you mark as complete. We are volunteers, we get tired, we have our lives. But, if we tell each other what’s going on with the tasks and what we can do, we still can make it work and not burn each other out. How? Here are a few points we recommend to keep in mind, irrespective of your role in the team.

  1. Always have a primary owner who is responsible for meeting the commitments of the role and a secondary owner who needs to support in case the primary owner is caught up with some other work.
  2. Respect your teammates and yourself. Be on time for meetings, meet your commitments. If you are running late to a meeting or late on a commitment you made, send a note prior - communicate. Respect folks’ time.
  3. You can’t be successful without a team supporting you - build relationships.
  4. Be reliable - do what you say so that your team mates can trust you.
  5. Be responsive, i.e., respond to emails and voice mails as soon as you can and let people know your time constraints. Sometimes telling someone “I can’t read this” and replying in detail the next day is already helpful because people can decide if they can wait or ask someone else.

3.3 Key dates for planning

3.3.1 Date and Duration

Now that you have assembled your team, the next step is choosing a date. The points below are usually taken into consideration to find a suitable date:

  1. Avoid overlapping dates with other conferences of similar genre, like rstudio::conf, whyR, latinR, and conectaR, among others.
  2. If in-person, check if there are important local events like marathons or games that attract a large amount of people. These events can affect transportation rates and hotel accomodations, and ultimately your attendance rate.
  3. Avoid religious and national holidays worldwide.
  4. Look at a few two-day choices you can accept. When talking to a venue, you might find that they can accommodate you better during some parts of the month than others. Sometimes they may be fully booked a given week but available the next.
  5. Consider that, if you schedule one or more of the conference days on a weekend, you are likely to see a significant drop-off of attendance on the weekend day(s). Using R is typically part of people’s work life. We recommend choosing weekdays.
  6. You cannot announce a date until you have two things: an agreement with a venue and a way to handle money.

3.3.2 Key dates for planning

Assuming a one-year preparation, a general timeline for useR! can look like this. The bottom axis represents the timeline for a conference in July 2021, but the top axis is generic and you can use this as a general framework for your preparation.

A gantt diagram showing approximate starting and ending times of some of the activities during the twelve months before the conference. The x axis represents the 12 month period, labeled Month 1(M1) - August 2020 to Month 12 (M12) - July 2021 for reference. The y axis labels are the conference areas, and horizontal bars show the start and ending of the activities. For example, the first activity is 'Gather organizing team, define subteams' and a horizontal bar starts at M1 and ends at M3, showing this should be done in the three first months of the conference organization. The complete list of tasks and starting/ending times are in this table. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1qXmcVf9EtabeFaE8xvv_PXeu1Qae91YodaI4eXI3U_A/edit?usp=sharing

3.4 Mode of the Conference

In-person conferences were the rule prior to 2020, but due to the SARS-COV2 pandemic, useR! 2020 and useR! 2021 were held online. In 2022, there was a plan to return to in-person activities but the conference will also be online. Travel and visa limitations are still in place and the online editions proved to be more inclusive events for people that would not be able to attend for any reason. As a result, future useR! events will be hybrid events, with an in-person and an online component tightly related. The idea is that online attendees have a conference experience as similar as possible as in-person attendees.

This table indicates which aspects of the conference have to be taken into account when planning in-person, online, or hybrid useR! conferences.
The exact format and ways in which such a hybrid conference would take place are still in discussion, and any ideas about this are welcome. Check how to contribute.

Feature In person Online Hybrid
Website ✔︎ ✔︎ ✔︎
Registration platform ✔︎ ✔︎ ✔︎
Submission platform ✔︎ ✔︎ ✔︎
Travel accomodations ✔︎ ✔︎
Conference venue ✔︎ ✔︎
Conference platform ✔︎
Online tutorials ✔︎
Video recording ✔︎ ✔︎
Video streaming ✔︎ ✔︎
Online Q & A ✔︎ ✔︎
Chat and networking ✔︎ ✔︎
In-person social events ✔︎ ✔︎
Online social events ✔︎ ✔︎