Most of those who attended APA's 2002 Annual Convention in Chicago responded favorably to changes in the convention design--including a shorter convention schedule, new programming formats and a one-building setting. The results come from an evaluation by APA's Board of Convention Affairs (BCA) that featured a survey of those who attended the Aug. 22-25 event (about half of whom responded) along with session attendance figures and several other surveys.
The most popular modification among the survey respondents was the shorter convention format. Eighty-eight percent endorsed shrinking it from Friday to Tuesday to Thursday to Sunday. Respondents also gave high marks to such innovations as collaborative cluster/track programming and plenary sessions. The same format changes will carry over to APA's 2003 Annual Convention in Toronto, Aug. 7-10.
Philip G. Zimbardo, PhD, who was APA's president in 2002, says he is encouraged by the results. "I worked very hard to make the convention intellectually exciting and at the same time fun by adding some unusual elements and nontraditional speakers and symposia, several wonderful evening sessions, and a first-ever closing session," Zimbardo says.
However, it remains to be seen whether the format changes will help turn around steadily declining convention attendance, says L. Michael Honaker, PhD, APA's chief operating officer. At last year's Chicago convention, 13,405 people attended, a 9.6 percent decline from the 1997 Chicago attendance.
Honaker says he hopes attendance will one day attract 18,000 to 20,000, which would include 9 to 10 percent of APA's membership. Six percent of APA Members attended last year's convention. Still, organizers anticipated reduced attendance due to a post-Sept. 11, 2001, slump in convention attendance around the nation and the struggling economy. And, says Honaker, attendance changes tend to happen gradually.
Seconding that view is William C. Howell, PhD, the former BCA chair who coordinated the evaluation. "It takes a long time for people to recognize there is a change in doing things," Howell says.
For example, the cluster/track programming innovation means APA divisions that have traditionally been responsible only for organizing sessions of interest to their own members will need to work with other divisions to identify topics of shared interest and organize attractive sessions together.
A key factor contributing to session attendance, according to current and past surveys, is high-profile speakers addressing hot topics. Therefore, greater emphasis is being placed on such sessions, not only in the cluster/track format but also in the new plenary format that is designed to appeal to psychologists in general. "Toward this end, more attention needs to be given to paying expenses for a select number of outstanding speakers," Howell says.
Also warranting more attention is the type of venue chosen, he notes. Howell says organizers knew the Chicago venue would be a challenge since it heralded the new changes, was the first convention held since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and presented a number of logistical problems. Also, he says, division representatives in charge of organizing the cluster/track programming did not have ample time to organize sessions and recruit speakers. Some of the survey results reflect that.
A number of respondents reported dissatisfaction with the convention's site--McCormick Place--because they had to walk great lengths to each session and the site was far from the hotels.
However, in a 2-1 ratio, convention-goers responded favorably to the change of holding the convention under one roof. "All the surveys we took seemed to show a positive response to the format changes, and we were delighted about that," Howell says.
Brian Wilcox, PhD, the current BCA chair, says he is also encouraged by the positive responses. The format changes, along with the strong divisional programs and central programming, made for an interesting 2002 convention, says Wilcox, a professor of psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He says planners must continue to increase the number of high-quality presentations--which often draw large audiences--at future conventions.
Among the report's other findings:
60 to 70 percent of attendees reported positive reactions to the plenary sessions, while 3 to 11 percent expressed negative reactions.
39 percent of respondents rated the quality of the Chicago convention "about the same" as that of previous conventions, 19.3 percent said it was "better" and 10.8 percent said it was "worse."
42.2 percent of respondents preferred having the convention "under one roof" to the traditional "multiple hotel" arrangement, whereas 20.3 percent rated it "worse."