The EAA’s Annual Meeting is now fast approaching, and I for one am very much looking forward to it - as I always do. Although this year’s event is going to be an entirely virtual one, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the benefits that the conference brings each year to the locations that it visits. Perhaps they are benefits that we can look to encompass both on and offline in the future.
While numbers are certainly not everything, they do help to provide a quantifiable measure of sorts. For example, when Belfast was announced as the 2022 location for our Annual Meeting, the Belfast Telegraph proudly stated that the four-day event would bring £3.8m (€4.1m) to the city - such is the power of 2,500 archaeologists gathering in one place.
While that figure in itself is no doubt a welcome prospect for any city, what is perhaps most exciting is how that comes about. Of course, when we all congregate in one area, we need places to stay and food to eat. However, it is also a fantastic opportunity for us all to experience local culture, and in turn a chance for different regions to celebrate and showcase their archaeological heritage. If you have been to these events in the past, you will know that they are rich in fieldtrips exploring historic sites, tours, displays and of course talks and presentations.
As I have mentioned before, my background and my work revolve around the running of membership organisations. In my experience, making them run successfully hinges heavily on a combination of the benefits that the organisation itself can provide for its members, as well as the benefits that the members and the organisation can together offer local communities.
We know internally that we very much enjoy and value our EAA events. Nonetheless, as Members it’s also important to think about how we leverage our influence and presence to support the local communities that host us when we visit.
Last week I wrote about the EAA’s core values; rooted in doing good and bringing benefit to society. This to me seems an ideal example of that process in action, and something that we can continue to refine and enhance.
Now, how does that relate to my earlier point about needing to diversify in the way we do things for the future of the EAA; looking at the possibility of a blended conference of physical and virtual events, and embodying processes for our times?
Well, I make no secret of thinking that the physical conference is a marvellous thing, and there’s no need to change that in itself. However, Covid-19 has escalated the need to consider more variety in our approach in order to futureproof what we do and make it sustainable. In doing so, I think we can also make the event more inclusive and beneficial more people. For example, I have a dear friend who has told me that he would not have been able to travel to the conference this year due to ill health. However, now that it is to be a virtual event, he is very much looking forward to joining and being a part of it. For whatever reason, each year there will always be those who cannot attend in person. Having a combination of on- and offline events has the capacity to allow people to join and contribute in more ways than one.
That benefit can also extend to the positives we bring to our host communities. In addition to our physical event, a digital presence has the capacity to provide greater opportunity for publicity through a wider audience. That might include live streaming, recorded material that can be watched again later, virtual tours, webinars, online debates, social media and online learning.
While we also take enormous joy in travelling to different locations around the world, and there isn’t a substitute for that, one of the positive outcomes of this horrifying period of global shutdown has been the joy we have been able to take in seeing the earth begin to breathe again. Perhaps some of the good we can carry on from this period is in being more mindful about how we support the environment.
Having the option of a reduced carbon impact of the conference, whilst growing awareness at the same time, is surely something we should seek to do, and there are things we can consider to offset the cost of those of us who do travel. For example, my company has been carbon neutral since it was founded. We buy carbon credits to offset the impact of our staff travel and other activities - a simple process that I am familiar with, and something that’s very much in line with EAA values.
I have said it once, and I will say it again. The Board have done an outstanding job of putting this year’s conference together in a virtual capacity and at such short notice. Importantly, it lays the groundwork for what is achievable and what works for our Members, as well as the possibilities for how we can use it to benefit communities as well. The event establishes the EAA as an organisation with the capacity for large scale online conferences, and we don’t have to wait a full year to explore other, smaller digital opportunities throughout the year either.
In the past there have been a few inter-congress events, but they have been very small by comparison and often very niche. Again, by opening up the world of digital opportunity in addition to the Annual Meeting, we can explore the idea of how we can support communities in smaller ways on a more regular basis.
For me, a successful membership organisation needs to ask itself two questions:
I think the answer as we look to the future of the EAA in post-Covid, digitised, connected world is ‘more of the same, but even better’.
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