Using Advantages to Overcome Challenges
One of the many great things about SRAI is that the organization knows how to create and host a cutting-edge conference. Our 2019 Annual Meeting in San Francisco, 2019, was an exciting venue with a packed agenda to cultivate our minds and a memorable opening reception to uplift our spirits. Though current times present substantive challenges, experiences like San Fran remind us all we have more in common than not, and the combination of similarities and differences in our community create a graphene-like lattice of strength with boundless potential. That strength has helped the SRAI leadership and support teams pivot our 2020 Annual Meeting to a virtual event. The Catalyst Editors recently asked SRAI Headquarters about the advantages and challenges in moving our meeting online (a process that is still very much in progress). While there were no simple answers as we began, there was one simple goal: create the richest, most impactful experience possible for our members and community. Fortunately, we had a strong foundation with which to start.
The efforts of our members to submit diverse, wide-ranging topics combined with the careful development of the overall schedule and learning matrix by our Conference Co-chairs and curriculum track chairs was a tremendous advantage. Our community is lucky to have all of you working on our behalf. Ironically, it also created a challenge. How were we going to keep all these great topics when we move online and deliver them in a way that fits the demanding schedules of our community, would be affordable to the broadest possible audience in these difficult financial times, and limit the potential for “zoom-fatigue”? We began by focusing the meeting design on those with the tightest budgets and the most eager minds. Our solution is to offer specialized learning tracks, focus each of them over 2 days, and offer them at a reduced price. Then we asked ourselves how we can make that even better, so we figured out a way to offer recordings of each of the concurrent sessions “on-demand” for an additional 30 days and added access to our Main Event to sweeten the deal. Now attendees will get more training, over a longer period, at a very affordable price.
As you probably already know, most research administration professionals are asked to be generalists, even when working in specialized offices. This becomes an even deeper truth as our careers progress. SRAI’s HQ team wanted to take our normally robust offerings in our Annual Meeting structure and enhance it for our community of overachievers, while not requiring attendees to have an “out of office” message up for days on end. We met this challenge by spreading out the tracks over 3+ weeks so our community could stay current on their day to day demands. We partnered with Federal agencies to bring the most current updates possible and enhanced the progress our members can make in the journey toward earning one of our many certificates. Again, we worked on how we could provide even more value to our attendees, so we decided to throw in access to all of our pre-conference workshops and unlimited “on-demand” access to all tracks for members purchasing a full meeting registration. This allows attendees to complete 4 full certificates at one meeting for the first time ever (Financial Management (FM), Practice of Research Administration and Management (PRAM), Research Law (RL), and coming very soon, Leadership (LD))
Our final challenge was to create something fun that brings the community together and offers the opportunity for bonding and laughing. That is not so easy to do for thousands of virtual attendees. In honor of our strong tradition of educating in the most fun ways possible, this year, we will be hosting the iSRA Game Night with a happy-hour and special training for making unique cocktails followed by networking and a little friendly competition. Though we can’t fill your bellies with delicious appetizers, meals, and desserts as in years past, it is our sincere hope that we have created an opportunity to relax, have some fun, and meet some new people.
There is little doubt that 2020 has been a year of challenges. However, this year has also presented opportunities to develop resilience, leverage our considerable strengths, and create an even brighter future. The iSRA 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting is a part of that bright future, showcasing the leading experts in our profession, presenting on the most relevant and current challenges facing research administration professionals today while providing unprecedented access and value. The HQ team is excited to be preparing this event for our members and look forward to seeing you in the virtual conference halls.
We’d like to close with a special thanks to the resilient Annual Meeting Co-Chairs and honorary HQ team members, Denise Clark, Lorna Colquhoun, and Vivian Holmes, who will go down in our history books as the first (and hopefully only) co-chairs to have to plan 2 annual meetings (an onsite meeting and a virtual one), more than we are sure they bargained for when they first volunteered.
Authored by Evan Roberts, Executive Director