events: organization guidelines

Guidelines for the organization of ESCoP Conferences

There is normally an ESCoP conference every two years, in September of odd-numbered years.  Preferably, the conference is held in a different city each time. It is organised by a Local Group assisted by two members of the ESCoP Committee. This document is intended to summarise the planning and organisation of an ESCoP conference in such as way as to provide guidance:

(a) to any member of the Society who may be prepared to offer to organise an ESCoP conference, 

(b) to a Local Group selected to organise a conference. 

The Planning Cycle.

ESCoP depends on its members offering to organise meetings. Running a meeting, while onerous, is a good way of putting Cognitive Psychology in the hosts' universities/institutes and countries on the international map.  Meetings are sometimes run by a group from one university department or research institute, sometimes by a coalition of members of two or three such institutions in a city or region.  The Committee is always pleased to receive offers to organise a meeting, however tentative, from a member of ESCoP. Initial enquiries can be directed to the Secretary or any Committee member. The Committee may also attempt to prompt members in countries that have not recently hosted a meeting to consider doing so. 

To allow for the booking of the venue, generally the Committee needs to reach a final decision on the date and location of a conference by no later than the preceding conference two years before. Hence initial offers to organise a meeting should be sent to the Secretary three years before the proposed meeting and ideally more. When the Committee has some preliminary offers available for a given year, it asks one or more potential organisers to develop fuller proposals.  If no offers have been received, the Committee will approach potential organisers. If there is a surfeit of offers, the Committee may ask a proposer whether they could postpone their offer to a later cycle.  

An ESCoP conference.

A standard ESCoP conference is spread over three and a half days, starting on the afternoon of the first day. For example, on the first afternoon, after the registration desk opens, there might be the Women in Cognitive Science Meeting, followed by a set of parallel paper sessions, followed by the opening ceremony with one of the plenary lectures at 6 pm , followed by a welcome reception. There are then three full days of poster, paper, and plenary sessions, and other events. The last day's activities should end early enough to allow at least some participants to travel home that evening. This basic template can be varied to suit local conditions, habits, and travel constraints, but in such a way as to minimise participants' accommodation needs and travel costs.  Sample programmes from past meetings are available from the Secretary.

The number of participants at our conference has in the last decade varied between 550 and 950. The number expected will vary with location, date, economic conditions, etc, but a typical maximum for planning would be 900 with 750 expected and a break-even number of 550. [Exact numbers of participants in the registration fee categories for recent meetings may be obtained from the Secretary.] The number of participants is probably determined more by the accessibility and attractiveness of the host city and the venue, and the affordability of attending the meeting, than by the attractions of the scientific programme or the keynote speakers. Most participants, certainly those submitting papers and posters, do not know the content of the programme at the time they decide to attend.

The events that must be included are:

  • Up to three keynote lectures lasting one hour. These must include the Broadbent lecture and the Bertelson award lecture; selection of the two honorands is the responsibility of the ESCoP Committee. The third keynote speaker is proposed by the Local Group to the Committee, as suitably distinguished cognitive scientists whose research is clearly within ESCoP's domain, who have not previously given a keynote presentation at ESCoP, and who are likely to give a good talk. The Committee is keen that gender equality should be manifest over the years in the selection of keynote speakers and recommends that if the Bertelson award is given to a male, then the Broadbent lecture should be given to a female. A sufficient short list of potential speakers should be offered by the Local Group to permit some choice, and to allow for the possibility of refusals. The Committee should be invited to suggest candidates for the short list.
  • A number of sets of parallel sessions of consisting of 20 minute talk slots (15 minute presentation, 5 minutes for questions). Of these sessions, some are Symposia, and some are individual submitted talks organised as much as possible into thematically coherent sessions (e.g. on topics such as attention, face recognition, working memory). In recent years between 25% and 50% of the papers have been in symposia. The proportion should be within this range; 35% would be a good target.
  • Poster sessions. At recent conferences there have been 280-360 posters, spread over 3 poster sessions lasting 2 hours each. Posters are organised into thematically coherent groups, but posters in broad areas such as, for instance, language should be spread over the three poster sessions. It is desirable to have the posters available for viewing for several hours before the formal poster sessions, at which an author must be present.
  • A Business Meeting, a meeting between the Committee and ESCoP Local Officers, and (usually before the full conference begins) a Women in Cognitive Science meeting. The business meeting should be scheduled at a time that will encourage participation (e.g. just before a plenary lecture).
  • A conference dinner, ideally in some interesting and historic venue, usually on the evening before the last day of papers. The conference dinner may be combined with a tour of some kind. [Notable examples: the salt mines near Krakow, the Alhambra in Granada.] Participants pay for the dinner and any tour; hence the number that must be catered for is much smaller than the conference total.
  • One or more lower-key social events, e.g. drinks and canapés on Day 1 after the Broadbent lecture, or after a poster session.

The host city. 

Optimal locations for ESCoP conference are relatively central locations in attractive/interesting cities that are easily accessible by public transport from well-connected airports to which at least some budget airlines fly, that have suitable university facilities or conference centres, and which can offer a range of suitable accommodation and restaurants with sufficient capacity to absorb the conference participants without strain.  There should be sufficient low-priced accommodation (e.g. in university student accommodation, hostels, or budget hotels) available for PhD students and other participants with limited resources.  [It should not be assumed that other countries' universities are as generous in supporting travel to conferences as one's own.]  Unless there is rapid, frequent, and high-capacity mass transit available, the venue should be within walking distance (~2 km) of most of the available accommodation and restaurants.

The venue. 

The city must have a suitable conference centre or university buildings capable of providing, within a few minutes walk of each other:

(a) a lecture theatre or hall for the plenary lectures capable of seating most of the participants (not all will attend each lecture);

(b) six or seven lecture theatres with minimum capacity of 100 for parallel talk sessions; if there is a range of capacities, an educated guess will need to be made about which sessions are likely to be most popular. [The plenary lecture venue can be used for these sessions also, but it is preferable to have the regular sessions in smaller rooms, and money can sometimes be saved by hiring a large venue only for one or more plenary sessions. For instance, the Leiden meeting had one of the plenary lectures and a reception afterwards in a cathedral.]

(c) a poster display area with boards and sufficient space for display of, for instance, 120 posters (assuming 3 poster sessions), with ample room for circulation between them, and access to refreshments;

(d) open space for conference registration and help desks, for display stands for equipment manufacturers  and publishers, and for informal circulation,  conversation, and relaxation;

(e) access to free wi-fi (with password);

(f) catering facilities in or adjacent to the other spaces,  sufficient at least for coffee breaks, and ideally for lunch as well. A reasonably priced lunch should be available in a catering facility (or facilities) in or close by the conference venue. Often a buffet-style lunch at the conference venue itself has been included in the conference fee, and this has the merit of encouraging participants to stay at the venue and eat lunch in time for the first afternoon session. If there is no such catering facility at the venue, there must be an ample supply of restaurants, cafes, sandwich bars, cafeterias, student mensae,  etc., within a few minutes walk from the conference venue, and able to cope with the rush.  If participants must find lunch for themselves, the conference fee should reflect this.  Some conferences have provided not just the standard coffee/tea/juice and a biscuit during coffee breaks, but plates of pastries, bowls of fruit,  etc., throughout the day: nice but unnecessarily lavish. 

The lecture theatres must be equipped with good quality data projectors, and audio facilities. Often there is a central media centre where presentations can be uploaded to a server and/or tried out, but this is not essential, provided there are straightforward arrangements and support for getting standard format digital presentations (e.g. Powerpoint or Keynote) loaded onto data projector computers between sessions. If there is no media centre,  speakers must be able to plug their own laptops (Mac or PC) into the projectors and/or transfer their presentations onto the laptops of other presenters in their session. The necessity to connect laptops to projectors in mid- session should thus be avoided. Microphones should be available for the speaker and for questions.

Date of the meeting. 

A September date avoids encroaching on academic years in the majority of participating countries (though some conflicts are inevitable) and minimises clashes with other regular meetings that ESCoP members attend.  However, before finalising the date,  the Local Group should check carefully the advance plans of other societies, and the timing of Jewish and Muslim holidays which occur in or near September, so as to avoid clashes.  It may be possible to take advantage of the temporal and geographic proximity of other meetings, or for smaller groups to arrange satellite meetings on the day following or preceding the main ESCoP conference (as happens at the Psychonomic Society meetings). 

Responsibilties of the Local Group. 

Once a conference has been agreed between the Committee and a Local Group, the running of a meeting and its finances is the responsibility of the Local Group plus two members of the ESCoP Committee (usually including the Treasurer), together referred to as the Joint Committee. The two ESCoP members will typically participate in one or two preparatory meetings in the host city, but will otherwise consult via E-mail, Skype. etc..  The Chair of the Joint Committee and of the Local group should be a relatively senior ESCoP member who proposed the conference to ESCoP in the first place and is referred to below as the Organiser.

It is customary for the ESCoP committee to hold one of its regular committee meetings in the host city one year before the conference, in part to see the venue and to review and discuss the developing conference plans and budget with the Organiser and colleagues. There will also be a Committee meeting the day before the conference starts. The Local Group is asked to help the ESCoP Secretary find a suitable room for these Committee meetings, and advise on travel and accommodation.

As a general rule, the Local Group organises the conference itself, rather than contracting the organisation out to a commercial organisation. Such organisations usually charge large sums to run a meeting, and exist to run (e.g.) medical conferences with large budgets financed by drug companies, whereas ESCoP meetings are self-funding and designed to minimise costs. But in some countries there may be agencies who specialise in organising low-cost academic conferences. The explicit consent of the ESCoP committee is required to use such an agency, but it may be an acceptable solution (if demonstrably inexpensive), especially when the organisational resources of the host team are limited.  However, the scientific organisation of an ESCoP meeting cannot be delegated to non-specialists.

Of course, particular elements of organising a conference are often contracted out to suitable providers, if a tight rein is kept on costs and organisational oversight remains with the Local Group.  These elements may include:

  • Development and maintenance of the Web site (see below).
  • Booking of accommodation by participants. This is typically handled through a travel agency or municipal booking agency to which the conference Web site supplies a link for the selection of accommodation options. The Local Group should attempt to negotiate discounted rates for the Conference participants when they book through such an agency.
  • Catering. Conference centres often insist on including catering packages as part of the cost of renting their facilities.  Note that such packages can be sufficiently expensive and in excess of what is needed for an ESCoP meeting to render the overall cost of the venue unattractive.
  • Transportation of participants in buses to the conference dinner venue and any associated tour.
  • Preparation and printing of the conference programme (i.e. book of abstracts).
  • Design of conference logo, production of signage and other "visual branding" of the meeting, though expenditure on such decorative features should be kept to a minimum, perhaps by contracting it out to design students.

For the meeting itself the Local Group usually recruits a small army of volunteer graduate students who operate registration and help desks, set up poster sessions, manage a/v facilities in the lecture theatres, control access to the venue, make and post signage, etc.

The Local Group's job is divisible into two parts:  selecting and organising the scientific programme, and everything else. It is usual to divide the responsibilities accordingly between a Scientific Programme group (to which the two ESCoP committee members will belong) and a Logistics group, both chaired by the Local Organiser.

(i) Scientific programme

The schedule for developing the scientific programme is as follows.

12 - 9 months before the conference: The Web page for the conference goes live, and is advertised via the ESCoP mailing list and ESCoP Web page.  

9 months before the conference: Members are invited to submit, via the Web site, proposals for symposia on specific topics by a deadline 7 months before the conference. The Joint Committee may also encourage the submission of specific symposia. Symposium convenors must be full ESCoP members; other participants in symposia do not need to be members. Symposia consist of 4 to 6 papers on a timely and focused research topic, and should be designed to pull together stimulating contributions from multiple institutions and points of view, not to showcase a single research group, department, or perspective.  A symposium proposal consists of a brief description of the symposium topic and a provisional list of speakers and their talk titles; the convenor must have obtained the agreement of the speakers to attend the meeting and participate in the symposium.  Symposia are sometimes jointly organised with, and partially financed by, other Societies (e.g. APS).

6 months before the conference:  The Joint Committee's programme subcommittee, having selected symposia, informs the symposium organisers of the success or rejection of their symposium proposal. In the event of a rejection the proposed participants can be encouraged to submit standard papers or posters as below. Given a successful symposium bid, abstracts for the constituent talks are then submitted in the same way, and by the same deadline, as the other talks (but with the symposium identified).

7 months below the conference:  Submissions, via the Web site, of titles and abstracts for individual oral and poster presentations are invited by a deadline 5 months before the conference. Those submitting talk abstracts are asked to indicate whether, if there is not room for their talk in the programme, they wish to give a poster instead. Responding "yes" must not decrease the probability of being included in the programme of talks.

If more talks are submitted than there is room for (as is usually the case) the scientific programme group must select talks for inclusion on the basis of priority assigned to ESCoP members for oral presentations, and especially members who did not present at the previous meeting. While ESCoP has enjoyed and continues to encourage presentations by PhD students, the Committee wishes to discourage sessions consisting largely of presentations from one research group leader and his/her students. 

4 months before the conference:  applicants are informed whether their proposed talks/posters have been accepted. This must be before the "early registration" date, so that people know whether their paper/poster is accepted before they make the financial commitment to attend.

2 months before the conference. A programme is constructed organising the individual papers into thematically coherent sessions (inasmuch as this is possible) and then these sessions and the symposia are organised into parallel blocks of not more than two hours (six papers), avoiding topic and personnel clashes (inasmuch as this is possible). Parallel sessions are timed to run in a synchronised way so that participants may move between talks in concurrent sessions. Sessions are separated by refreshment breaks. Plenary sessions for the three keynote addresses are scheduled at suitable points (e.g. before an evening drinks reception), and are introduced and chaired by the Society’s President or his/her delegate. The programme is made available on-line. [Past programmes are available from the Secretary.]

 1-2 weeks before the conference:  Printing of the programme should be scheduled as close to the meeting as is safe, so that it can accommodate cancellations, amendments and corrections, which should also be provided and announced in a programme update online before participants travel to the conference.

At the conference: A printed copy of the programme is given to every registered participant. Sessions are chaired by the symposium convenor or by the first speaker of other sessions. Chairs are responsible for ensuring that media are set up before the session begins and for strict time-keeping.

After the conference:  the Programme Group should submit a brief report to the Committee on the number and type of submissions, the number accepted in various categories (member, associate, etc), papers denied talk slots, the number of participants attending, cancellations, and reflections on the successes of, and any issues with, the scientific programme that would help future organisers plan their meetings.  

(ii) Financial matters and responsibilities

The Society's income derives largely from royalties from its one journal, and is spent on its scientific activities and administration. ESCoP conferences must be self-financing. That is, the costs of the meeting must be completely covered by the registration fees together with any additional funding the Local Group can obtain from international, national or regional funding agencies, or from the organisers’ home institutions.  

Formal financial responsibility for the conference is assumed by the Joint Committee, which aims to run the meeting at a modest profit and avoid any loss, which would have to be covered by ESCoP's limited reserves.  Any profit will be transferred to ESCoP for the support of its scientific activities, including future conferences.

The Joint Committee acts autonomously, consulting with the ESCoP committee where necessary through its two representatives, but the ESCoP committee must consider and approve the draft budget, usually at its on-site meeting the year before the conference.  Because many of the costs are fixed (e.g. rental of the venue facilities, production of the programme), it is obviously essential to keep those costs as low as possible and maximise the number of participants within the facilities' capacity, in part by keeping registration fees as low as possible. 

The costs of optional social events or tours are paid for by the participants in those activities (unless some subsidy is available from local sources such as regional cultural agencies). Such optional activities are booked by, and payments are collected from, participants when they register on-line. Any remaining tickets, or returns, can be sold at the conference.

It is usually most efficient for the Local Group to manage the collection of registration fees on-line (and at the registration desk for last-minute participants) and to arrange for all payments, setting up an account in their home institution to do so.  If necessary, however, it is possible for ESCoP to manage the collection of fees, and/or payments, according to a specific agreement with the Local Group. Issues such as national rules for what VAT is chargeable on may influence the desirability of such an arrangement, which would need to be discussed early.

ESCoP will contribute 2500 Euros to fund the travel and accommodation of the Broadbent and Bertelson lecturers. It will also make available a 5000 Euro advance to cover expenses (to be paid back after the meeting).

The registration fees differentiate between: 

  • Non-members
  • Non-members – Graduate Students (incl. PhD students)
  • ESCoP members 
  • ESCoP (associate) members – Graduate Students (incl. PhD students)

 The Treasurer will suggest appropriate differentials between these fee levels.

It is usual to offer a substantial discount for registration and payment by a specified date ("early registration") as this helps the organisers plan and pay the bills.

 As should be obvious from the above, unnecessary expense should be avoided, and all and any opportunities to increase income -- such as charges to exhibitors -- exploited.  Examples of unnecessary expenses include free conference bags, pens, notebooks, T-shirts, mementos etc. for the delegates.  Each delegate needs only a programme and an inexpensive name badge. Equipment and software manufacturers can be invited to sponsor name badges with their name on the neck ribbon, or to advertise in the programme. 

It would be helpful to participants who are parents of young children if the Local Group could explore cheap possibilities for child care.

After the conference, the Local Group submits accounts to the ESCoP Treasurer, detailing income and outgoings, with commentary.  Such accounts will be made available to future organisers to help them plan their budgets.

Conference proposals.

Following initial inquiries and soundings, the Committee may ask one or more potential organisers to explore potential venues and submit an outline proposal with budget. The proposal should specify the following information (perhaps with URLs linking to information, photos, maps):

  • The proposed Organiser (who must be an ESCoP member)
  • The provisional composition and institutional affiliations of the Local Group, and their roles -- e.g.  provisional membership of the Scientific Programme Group and Logistics group.
  • A description of the Conference Venue (e.g. university campus or conference centre) and its facilities (see above for numbers and capacities required), including integral or nearby catering facilities for coffee breaks, and lunch, and their costs.
  • An outline of the range and cost of hotels and other accommodation available.
  • Information on the proximity of the conference venue to hotels and other accommodation and to downtown restaurants;  information on mass transit, where relevant.
  • Outline information about options for travel to the conference city. 
  • Outline format of the proposed conference - e.g. rough schedule, number of parallel sessions, advance proposals for keynote speakers and symposia, any special features of the programme.
  • Provisional proposal for and costs of the conference dinner and other social events.
  • The proposed date (including indication that potential clashes with religious or other holidays and other meetings have been considered).

The budget should include realistic provisional estimates of all costs and proposed levels of registration fees or other sources of funding to cover those costs. [Past budgets may be obtained from the Secretary]

The committee decides between proposals on the basis of criteria that include: the scientific reputation and history of the host institution(s);  the accessibility, attractions, costs, and other characteristics of the host city; the suitability of the conference venue and its costs; the desirability of distributing ESCoP conferences over many countries; any financial resources available to the local group.

ESCoP Committee

July 2012