Decision to Have an In-Person Meeting for ASBH 2022 Annual Meeting
August 2, 2022
Dear ASBH Members,
We wanted to take this opportunity to explain our decision to hold an in-person meeting in October 2022 in Portland, Oregon. Although this decision was welcomed by many, some may have concerns about having an in-person meeting in October.
The evolving nature of the COVID-19 pandemic requires decision-making in an environment of uncertainty. The Board must act as good stewards of the Society’s resources. Contractual requirements require the Board to make decisions long in advance of transmission and infection data being available. The conference specialists at Association Management Center (AMC), the professional staffing partners of ASBH, have been monitoring conference trends throughout the pandemic and have been keeping ASBH leadership informed on a regular basis.
What we know now is that the vast majority of organizations have returned to “in person” meetings. Other organizations have also announced holding their fall meetings in-person (this includes much larger organizations such as the American Academy of Religion, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Public Health Association). This trend, coupled with the fact that hotels and convention centers are “open for business,” means that it would have been financially prohibitive for ASBH not to move forward with an in-person meeting. The accommodations we were able to negotiate with venues for our 2020 and 2021 conferences are no longer possible in the current environment. And even those accommodations were not neutral: we incurred financial costs when we cancelled those in-person meetings and had to commit to rebooking with those cities in the future to further mitigate resource loss.
This was not merely a financial decision. One of ASBH’s strategic goals is to continue to prioritize the annual meeting as the main activity of the organization. We have used member feedback from over the years to continue to enhance the conference and ensure that it is meeting the needs of the members. For example, we reserve as many break-out rooms as possible so that we can accept more papers, enabling more people to obtain the “speaking credit” necessary for institutional funding of travel.
Yet we recognize that an in-person conference will never meet the needs of all our members; in particular, those who are unable to travel for a variety of reasons will be negatively affected by this decision. We did, indeed, explore a “hybrid” option for the meeting, where some parts of the meeting would be available to those at a remote distance. However, there were several challenges to this hybrid approach.
- When we surveyed members, the hybrid option was the least desired; people seemed to want us to “commit” to one option or another (all remote or all in-person).
- Hybrid meetings are more expensive to provide than either virtual or in-person, and those costs would have had to be passed on to those registering. In a time when fewer institutions are funding professional development expenses, and when some are already concerned about the cost of the meeting, the financial ramifications of this decision were significant.
- As many of us learned during the pandemic, running a hybrid meeting is not as simple as just “Zooming” in the content. It would require not just logistical manipulation but would in fact fundamentally change the nature of our meeting, requiring presenters to engage both local and remote meeting attendees. In addition, attendees have told us repeatedly that one major advantage of the annual meeting is the opportunity to network in-person with colleagues from other institutions. Facilitating this goal in a hybrid setting would require significantly more staff and resources. Given competing interests, uncertain engagement with a hybrid conference, and resource limitations, the board decided on an in-person conference for 2022.
At the same time, the Board acknowledges that another one of our strategic priorities is diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the inclusion piece of this goal is brought into question by this decision. There are myriad reasons why people are unable to travel and limiting participation in the annual meeting to those able to come to Oregon in person may further disadvantage those who are in marginalized communities. To address these concerns, the Board is actively developing other ways to engage members in the work of bioethics and the health humanities separate from the annual meeting. We are exploring ways to make both valuable content and member connections available throughout the year so that those who are unable to join us in Oregon will be able to participate meaningfully in the work and collegial benefits of the organization.
We realize that this decision will be disappointing to some of you. We hope that making our reasoning transparent facilitates understanding about our decision-making process for this year’s conference.
And to those wondering: we will describe our COVID policies shortly. We are gathering as much evidence as we can about the likely state of the pandemic in October so that we can make an informed decision.
ASBH Board of Directors