Executive Report: 2020 Conference Recap

Diane L. Cushman, NCFR Executive Director
/ NCFR Report, Spring 2021

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In the fall 2020 issue of NCFR Report I shared how NCFR came to the decision to conduct the conference online in a virtual format. At the time I speculated that the pandemic was likely to force us to find new ways to deliver the conference, and indeed it did.

The first thing we needed was an online platform to provide orderly access to the many virtual rooms through which presentations would be delivered using Zoom software, either live or recorded. After reviewing many options, the NCFR staff selected the Whova platform, and we’re glad we did. While not perfect, Whova proved to have features that conference attendees appreciated, including its community board where over 3,000 comments were posted, and preferred over past conference apps. Overall, the Whova experience was rated 4.07 out of 5, with 82 percent of users rating it good or excellent. Our experience was so favorable that we have decided to use Whova as the 2021 conference app, regardless of the format of the conference. We’ve already gathered our suggestions for improving the app and shared those with the vendor, who made us aware that many of our suggestions are already in development.

While meeting online does not compare to meeting in person, many conference attendees found the conference to be more accessible than in past years. Such accessibility resulted in 1,336 attendees—the highest number in over a decade—and an overall quality-of-research rating of 4.28 out of 5, the highest such rating in our recorded postconference survey data. We attribute much of the improvement in session quality to the work of our Conference Improvement Committee, which has suggested a number of changes over the years to the submission and review process.

While other academic conferences offered only a sampling of academic content in 2020, NCFR chose to offer its entire planned conference program virtually, including posters, plenaries, receptions, papers, workshops, business meetings, section and focus group networking meetings, exhibits, and more. It proved a monumental task, a reengineering of the entire conference. Some parts went particularly well and others, if done again, could be improved. Overall, the comments shared by those in attendance were very positive and inclined toward “I didn’t realize an online conference could be done so well.”

We want to thank everyone for taking part, in particular the more than 500 first-time attendees and the many retirees who joined online to visit old friends and colleagues. We also want to thank our outstanding, creative, and flexible program chair Brad van-Eeden Moorefield and our first-ever virtual conference planning committee. Planning is under way for 2021, and we appreciate your continued support, particularly if, with the realities of a pandemic, we have to plan another virtual conference. When we are able to resume in-person conferences, it will be a grand reunion of the Family Science community.

 

Comments from the 2020 Postconference Survey

“I think the transition to a virtual format went smoothly from my perspective as an attendee. The Whova app was a wonderful tool!”

“I truly enjoyed the NCFR conference this year. It was my first time attending, and everything went very smoothly. Everyone was very friendly and I learned a lot from the great presentations and sessions offered.”

“As a virtual conference, I think it was amazing!”

“The tech worked really well! I felt more welcome as a practitioner this year. I liked the focus group on home visiting, that was focused on applied family science.”

“Overall—very impressed with how the technology was managed. I’m sure a lot went into choosing the conference platform and we are most appreciative. Session topics (special and plenary) were incredible and timely. Brad is a rock star!!”