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.
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 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.
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:
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 city must have a suitable conference centre or university buildings capable of providing, within a few minutes’ walk of each other:
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:
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.
A distinction is made between:
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.
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.
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.
The following time line should be followed:
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