Guidelines for the organization of ESCoP Conferences

Version 11.11.2019 

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 summarize the planning and organisation of an ESCoP conference 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.  

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]. ESCoP provides a Conference Budget Calculator for organizers, such that realistic estimates of income can be estimated. The calculator can 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.

Expected attendance

In the last editions we had close to 800 attendants. Attendance of 750 seems to be a good number to start calculations. Of these, about half are PhD students (with reduced fee).

Structure of the conference

In the past, conferences started at 4 pm on the first day with an invited keynote, a poster session, and a welcome reception. This is followed by three full days of conference. 

The conference includes three keynote talks. 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 conference usually includes four poster sessions. At recent meetings, the poster sessions on days 2-4 were at 10.30-12.00 am, which was a good time slot.

It is good to think of ways to keep people till the last evening. In Potsdam, for instance, this was done by the organisation of a very successful science slam (with free dinner and drinks).

The talks consist of symposia and regular session, organised in sets of parallel sessions consisting of 20 minute talk slots (15 minute presentation, 5 minutes for questions). In total, there are usually 350 to 400 talks. Regular sessions consist of 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 (that amounts to about 20-40 symposia). The proportion should be within this range; 35-50% would be a good target.

Symposia are invited sessions typically consisting of 5 speakers. Together with the keynote speakers, they form the backbone of the conference and are an encouragement for other people to submit (so, the symposia are invited first). Importantly, because the symposia tend to draw large audiences, it is important that they are not set against regular talks (as the latter would be badly attended then). So, we have time slots in which all sessions are regular talks and time slots in which all sessions are symposia. The symposia can either be in the morning or in the afternoon.

At several meetings, we had a symposium sponsored by the Psychonomic Society, related to the conference theme(s). It certainly is a good idea to contact to Psychonomic Society to ask whether they’d be interested in a joint symposium.

Something new we introduced is symposia connected to the keynote speakers. This better integrates the theme of the keynote speakers in the conference and improves the experience of the keynote speakers (as they are sure to meet some of their colleagues). Ideally, such symposia need no sponsoring, under the assumption that speakers will be interested to attend anyway.

Another interesting aspect is to have a few workshops preceding the opening of the conference (e.g., about statistical packages, about stimulus presentation, about grants, about the Journal of Cognition, meeting the editors, women in cognitive science, …). ESCoP will help with the organisation of these.

The program should also include: 

  • A Business Meeting 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 extra 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 program of the conference is decided jointly by the organisers and 2-3 Committee members of ESCoP, taking the above recommendations into account.

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 lecture theatre or hall for the plenary lectures capable of seating most of the participants (not all will attend each lecture);
  • 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.]
  • 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;
  • open space for conference registration and help desks, for display stands for equipment manufacturers and publishers, and for informal circulation, conversation, and relaxation;
  • access to free wifi (with password);
  • 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: this is nice when it does not burden the budget too much. 

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). 

Responsibilities 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-funded 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 expensive and in excess of what is needed for an ESCoP meeting. They may make 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. This includes a hard summary copy with titles and authors, and an electronic app for details.
  • 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 customary to divide the responsibilities accordingly between a Scientific Programme group and a Logistics group, both chaired by the Local Organiser. 

The Scientific Programme group has two ESCoP committee members and the final programme must be approved by the ESCoP committee.

The Local Group needs to ensure they have appropriate insurance policies in place, covering legal liability in case of injury to a third party or damage to property, as well as fire insurance.

The Local Group signs up to the present document if they submit a proposal.

Conference fee

A distinction is made between:

  • Predocs, postdocs, faculty members, and business reps
  • Member vs. non-members
  • Early registration vs. late registration

Predocs pay less than postdocs and both pay less than faculty members. Applicants who are not yet members, have to pay additional membership fee and thereby become member for the next two years. Membership fee is €150 for researchers with a PhD and €100 for PhD students. As we prefer attendants to register as society member before the conference, we ask an additional €20 administration cost if membership has to be included in the conference fee. To encourage early registration, it is a good idea to give a bonus for those who register early.

The conference fee will be a combination of the costs the organisers foresee and the number of attendants. It is good to have some activities that can be dropped in case of fewer submissions and that can be added in case of more submissions (e.g., the type of food offered can differ). 

The conference fee includes at least two coffee breaks and lunch per day, which are ideally organised in such a way that they encourage presence at the conference and in particular the poster sessions, e.g., coffee break in the room of the poster session; lunch that does not interfere with sessions and that is organised in such a way that people do not have to queue for too long. (For instance, in Potsdam and Tenerife, sandwiches and refreshments were offered during poster sessions, in the room of the poster session, which worked really well, i.e., people did not have to choose between eating and attending the poster session. People could also opt for sit-down lunch outside of the poster room. Something similar was done in Cyprus, where there also were several buffet stalls distributed over the site.).  

The conference fee does not include social activities (e.g., the conference dinner). In the past two editions, some activities were organised in the evening (e.g., a buffet), which were very successful and appreciated by the attendants. This is something that could be added in case attendance is higher than budgeted.

The fees must be agreed with ESCoP as they must remain reasonable (taking into account that ESCoP members usually are offered quite a lot for their money).

Below are the fees asked for late registration at the Tenerife 2019 conference. Early registration was €100 less. They are a good benchmark.

  • Regular Non-Member 620€
  • Regular ESCoP Member 450€
  • Student Non-Member 470€
  • Student ESCoP Member 350€
  • Post-Doc Non-Member 570€
  • Post-Doc ESCoP Member 400€
  • Business Reps 720€

When planning the finances, it is important to keep in mind that the ESCoP membership fee and the administration costs for non-members will have to be paid to ESCoP after the conference. It is good to make sure that these membership fees will not incur some local taxation. Given that more than half of the attendants are non-members, the amount can be expected to be around €60K. ESCoP uses this money to finance its activities (website, journal, summer schools, sponsoring of workshops, …). The list of non-member attendants has to be sent to ESCoP after the conference (within one month), so that the people involved can be registered as member and receive information from ESCoP (e.g., the monthly newsletter and information about the journal).

Organizers are strongly encouraged to use the ESCoP Conference Budget Calculator, to calculate the different types of fee and to obtain a realistic estimation of the available budget to the organizers.  The calculator can be obtained from the Secretary, who can also be contacted for more information concerning the calculator. 

Costs to be budgeted

In addition to the catering costs, usual costs are (1) use of the rooms, (2) boards for posters, (3) making of the program and the abstracts book/app, (4) welcome reception, (5) costs for the invited speakers. Because the speakers of some of the workshops before the conference proper must be paid, it is good to budget an additional €6K here.

Financial responsibility

In the past, ESCoP conferences have produced a small profit. Policy is to split this between the local organisers and ESCoP. In addition, ESCoP must receive the money related to the membership, given that non-member participants are told they will get membership for two years. Organisers should try to avoid a deficit. If a deficit happens nevertheless, ESCoP will pay half of it, in line with the splitting of profits. As indicated, it may be good to think of expenses that can be lowered in case of less attendance than expected and increased in case of many late applications (as was the case in the last three editions).

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 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.

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.

It is important to have good communication between the local organiser and ESCoP. Therefore, the local organiser is co-opted to the committee for the years up to the conference. In that way, ESCoP is better informed about issues that may arise and the local organiser also has easier communication with the ESCoP committee. Nearly all communication is done electronically.

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.

Time line

The following time line should be followed:

  • Sometime in Spring-Summer of the year prior to the conference: Site visit by some ESCoP members to see how the conference would best be organised, based on the available facilities and previous experiences. Is also a good moment to make first estimates about the conference fee to be asked.
  • 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 - 10 months before the conference: Members are invited to submit, via the Web site, proposals for symposia on specific topics are selected with a deadline 7 - 8 months before the conference (usually January 31 of the conference year). 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 5 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 (no abstracts yet; it is better to receive these via the portal for all submissions); 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; Psychonomics Society).
  • 7 months before the conference (usually end of January):  The Joint Committee's programme subcommittee, having selected symposia, informs the symposium organisers of the success or rejection of their symposium proposal; the accepted symposia are posted on the conference web page. 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). Ideally, we also have the names of the symposia related to the invited speakers at this stage as well. 
  • Decision about symposia: as soon as possible in February of the conference year, so that the accepted symposia can be put on the website before the call for regular submissions.
  • 7 months before the conference (usually end of February):  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 (~March 31). ESCoP members with active membership at the moment of submission have priority for talks, and this should be clearly communicated (in newsletter and on website, it should be recommended that researchers verify their membership status at moment of submission, if they wish to benefit from this priority rule).
  • This date also starts the early bird registration. Those submitting talk abstracts are asked to indicate whether, if there is no 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. To avoid confusion,  we propose that researchers can choose between two options: “poster only” OR “talk (but poster, if talk is not possible)” 
  • 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 (end of May): Decision about which submissions will be accepted (as talk or as poster) and making of provisionary program.  ESCoP members have priority for talk slots.  Also notification of authors and participants of symposia by the end of May. At this point everyone must pay their fee to be included in the program. In case authors of talks or symposia do not pay on time, their slots will be filled otherwise: selected poster presenters are given the opportunity of a talk and the organisers of symposia will be contacted for replacements. The "early registration" deadline should be after this 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 their delegate. The programme is made available on-line. [Past programmes are available from the Secretary.] 
  • End of June: Final program (with all authors paid) will be made public. Start of late registration fees.
  • 1 - 2 weeks before the conference:  Printing of the summary 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 in the app before participants travel to the conference.
  • At the conference: A printed summary copy of the programme is given to every registered participant. There is also an easy to use electronic app with details. 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. 

Publications based on the conference

Keynote speakers should be informed that we’d appreciate a text based on their talk for JoC. Also the organisers of symposia should be informed about this possibility (and the fact that such special collections will be sponsored by the society)

Some more tips for organizers

  • Make sure that the lines at the food and drink distribution points do not become too long.
  • Make sure that there is plenty of food and drinks so that people don’t have to rush.
  • Make sure that people do not get lost; provide arrows, and maps appropriately.
  • Make sure the poster sessions are easy to find and central to the conference (e.g., because coffee breaks are given there).
  • Make sure that the posters are not too close to each other, in rooms with appropriate acoustics.
  • If possible, ensure that there are plenty of places at the conference centre where people can hang out and talk to each other.
© 2024 ESCOP - All rights reserved