Inside the Annual Meeting Scheduling Process

The anticipation is building as our 2017 Annual Meeting approaches. The theme, Anthropology Matters! generated an exciting, dynamic, and at times wonderfully radical array of session submissions that that promise an engaging and memorable conference for all those attending in Washington, DC.

The initial scheduling for the 5700 submissions is now well underway, however, as we are in DC with rather limited space, there were a number of additional sessions that could not be accommodated.  This is an unfortunate reality as the association and conference participation continue to grow in size.  To improve the understanding of, and planning for, the review process in the coming years, the AAA staff and I  thought it might be a good idea to offer a bit of “behind the scenes” information as to how it works.

Each of the AAA sections was asked to review and rank sessions submitted to them and send those results to the AAA. The ranked sessions from each section were then divided as follows: top 50% into the A category, the next 30% into the B category, and the rest into the 20% C category. Programming was done by moving through the ranked lists of sessions from each section simultaneously (e.g., all A’s were programmed first, then all B’s, then on to C’s) until no more space was available. Sessions ranked at the very bottom of their section’s pile (in the Cs) had the highest likelihood of not being scheduled.

We received 793 full panel submissions (oral, roundtable, executive session, retrospective, etc.) plus another 823 individually volunteered papers. Of those individually volunteered papers, most were compiled into 155 panel sessions by the sections. A smaller amount were not compiled into sessions and those individuals were all offered poster slots. The total number of sessions submitted was 948 (more than 5700 individual submissions). In the DC venues we have space for 844 sessions. Seven of those slots were allocated for the late-breaking sessions, leaving 837 slots remaining for the 948 submitted sessions. This resulted in approximately 12 percent of submitted sessions not being selected due to their rankings and the availability of space.

There were also 194 posters and gallery submissions scheduled in spaces that do not compete with sessions or roundtables.  The scheduling of the workshops, special events, section business meetings, film screenings, etc. is still underway.

I have now had the pleasure of working through this scheduling process twice and, while it is not perfect, it does work quite well. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the section program committee members who review and rank submissions, doing the lion’s share of the critical intellectual work in this process. The staff of the AAA are consummate professionals and tireless at working to make sure there is a minimal amount of overlap, slippage, or other problems in the schedule itself.  We all share the common goal of continuing to work toward improving lines of communication, quality of experience, and sense of community at our Annual Meeting.

It is my hope to see as many of you as possible attending the meeting, regardless of whether or not you are presenting your work this time around. Being there, participating, creating, acting, pushing anthropology to one another and out into the world is a critical way to make Anthropology Matter.

See you in DC!

Cite as: Fuentes, Agustin. 2017. “Inside the Annual Meeting Scheduling Process.” Anthropology News website, July 21, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.527

Comments

On behalf of AAA, thank you, K Coffee, for your comment and question. Prior to 2017, the sections and their reviewing representatives (the “Section Program Chairs”) applied whatever review criteria they wished to assign the A, B, and C scores, which they then passed along to AAA staff and the Executive Program Chair for scheduling. The criteria varied from section to section, and were not transparent. This year, we asked ALL Section Program Chairs to use a consistent set of review criteria. All 40 Section Program Chairs (and up to three additional individuals that each section designated) reviewed submissions designated for their section using a scale of 1 (low) to 6 (high) on the same criteria: rigor of scholarship, relevance of submission to the theme, importance to current issues, and quality of the submission overall. Each section’s reviewers’ scores were aggregated for each paper, and the top 50% of papers that each section scored were assigned an “A,” the next 30% were assigned a “B,” and the final 20% were assigned a “C.” The number of submissions reviewed by each section varied, depending on the number of submissions received. The Executive Program Committee (EPC) then populated the Annual Meeting program accordingly, assigning sessions and papers to scheduling slots until all the space on the program was filled. Assigning A, B, and C scores was not new in 2017, but what was new for 2017 was the introduction of a consistent set of evaluation criteria to make it a more equitable process for all 40 sections.

What this essay does not explain is the criteria used for ranking proposals. What are the biases employed to rate one paper an “A” and another a “C”? Is that methodology uniformly shared among sections?

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Want to comment? Please be aware that only comments from current AAA members will be approve. AN is supported by member dues, so discussions on anthropology-news.org are moderated to ensure that current members are commenting. As with all AN content, comments reflect the views of the person who submitted the comment only. The approval of a comment to go live does not signify endorsement by AN or the AAA.