When we jointly decided in August to hold a conference with only vaccinated and recovered guests, we honestly feared a shitstorm by the community for such draconian measures. Back then no one imagined that not even a fully vaccinated conference would be enough to safely meet. Yet today we are in the situation where we had to cancel a long planned conference on short notice, left back with many question marks. Some for ourselves, but certainly many for you, as participants, speakers and contributors. So, in this post, we want to provide some insight into what planning a conference means these days.
First, we want to start with an exclamation mark: The expected storm never arrived. On the contrary, we were delighted to see people supporting our plan, registering eagerly and diligently preparing to make it all happen. We would like to thank you all for this, even if it means that the surprise that the conference eventually is not taking place is all the greater.
The longing to see each other again in real life appeared to be strong, both on the side of the organisers and the participants – even with high burdens on the way.
And we were ready to take all necessary efforts to make a physical meeting possible again – since direct and fruitful exchange of the different perspectives involved in an evaluation is our Platform’s main purpose and we try to live up to that!
During the last week, the situation became tougher and dynamics fastened with every day. Still ten days before the conference odds seemed to be in our favour. The conference was in line with all regulations (actually being ahead of them), travel between countries was possible and a safe conference seemed doable.
But within the very last days of preparations events took unpredictably off, and planning security shrunk to a minimum:
- Over night Austria announced a partial lock-down;
- The city of Vienna announced even stricter measures to be enforced during the week of conference;
- Germany and the Netherlands sent their employees back to Home Office;
- Austria was put on high-risk status as a travel destination by many countries,
- leading to more and more of our guests cancelling;
- AND we saw the numbers of infections and people that needed intensive care rising drastically every day.
Despite all circumstances we, the organising team, stayed negative for Corona and positive for the conference.
It was only two very days before the conference was about to start, when situation tipped. We organised a short-term “Corona Board Meeting” discussing the options on the table in a rapidly changing framework:
- Stick with the initial planning of the conference, as it was still a legit event within the current restrictions (but not within the possibly upcoming restrictions announced).
- Adapt the conference to a “2G+” event once again, pre-empting stricter regulations, meaning that all vaccinated participants need an additional PCR test, which would have in practice resulted in an extremely downsized programme (especially on day 1).
- Cancel the conference and again hope that the next year will bring the break-through in the containment of the pandemic.
In parallel, we were already organising PCR test-lanes for our guests to have joint testing excursions during lunch break. We were adapting our schedules for longer breaks and substituted the ever-growing list of people who told us they could not come due to completely understandable personal risk assessments and health concerns.
When I was just about to click the “send” button to provide you with all the new information, we were informed that negative PCR test results would become compulsory in Vienna exactly the first day of our conference. And with people travelling from abroad together with the 24h it takes to receive a test-result, this would not have been possible. This was the tipping point. We postponed.
Despite all the extra hours and crisis meetings, in the end it was impossible to maintain a safe implementation under the given conditions.
After that emotional rollercoaster we immediately started to clean up the mess and, just according to our Conference’s name, to “re-evaluate” what we are actually doing here.
And after all the three organising institutions jointly agreed: It was the right decision not to pose our guests under unnecessary risk, but it was also the right decision to try to offer an opportunity for face-to-face exchange even in a time where we are all threatened by a faceless threat.
In this nerve-racking time of uncertainty, I have experienced an organisational team that has shown strong nerves and reliability in every difficulty. Knowing that I can work in this team again makes me actually look ahead in confidence that the next run will be even nicer and I am looking forward to doing it all again.
What I personally found remarkable are the cancellations that reached us before events started to accelerate quickly: I wrote with contributors that highly regretted to cancel and stressed the importance of the networking they had been looking forward to. But they had prioritised their schedules otherwise, trying to travel less, having looser schedules or time for family matters. And this, I suspect, is also an outcome of the pandemic, and actually not a negative one.
Yes, meeting in person is very important. Yet, given drastic environmental changes, not-travelling is important too. Given the overall acceleration of our lives, looser schedules and more time for family matter just as well. These are all important things that have to be accounted for. And maybe there are times approaching, where it is becoming more accepted not to be everywhere all the time and not to be active at many different scenes in parallel.
While that is a ray of hope for me, as conference organisers we have to be realistic that there is no improvement in sight whatsoever. We have to get used to unusual situations as this crisis might only be the first of a kind. We must be clear of what is really important for us and prioritise what is most important and most beautiful to do within the time and resources we have. But the capability to prioritise also means to have a choice.
Therefore, we want to make you the offer to meet here in Vienna in May 2022. In this regard we have decided to automatically refund the conference fees, allowing you to take a real decision about what is important for you at this time, no matter if it is work, family or the still present pandemic.
But rest assured: We will indeed appreciate ever more the participation of each of you who decides to be with us in May.
Wishing us all the best of health,
for the team of Organisers