An update from Annual Meeting volunteers: Hailey Wilmer, Justin Derner, Chuck Butterfield, Julie Elliott and Josh Tashiro
The organizers of the 2020 Society for Range Management (SRM) Annual Meeting, to be held in Denver, Colorado, USA, are seeking to “adaptively manage” the meeting format. We administered an informal, online pre-meeting questionnaire in 2017 to SRM members to inform initial designs of the 2020 meeting program. The questionnaire included 42 questions covering 5 topic areas. The survey was approved by the SRM Board of Directors. A link to the online questionnaire was sent through the Range Flash newsletter and through email networks to known SRM members March-May of 2017. A total of 89 members responded to the survey, with the majority reporting their primary occupation as public agency employees (USDA Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, state agencies, etc.) (n=36). Respondents included academics/researchers (n=16), students (n=14) and emeritus/retired members (n=8), private industry (n=5), and rancher/producer (n=8), non-profit (n=4) and other=(2). Members with 20+ years in SRM were the largest group of respondents (n=32), followed by those with 10-20 and 5-10 years of experience (both n=19) and members with 0-5 years of membership (n=18).
Why do members attend the annual meeting? The top three factors influencing attendance were 1) opportunities for networking (94% of respondents indicating that networking was “very important “or “somewhat important”), 2) professional development (87%) and 3) presenting current research (69%).
What improvements would you like to see at the annual meeting?
Outside perspectives: The top priority was for giving more annual meeting time to “Outside perspectives on current topics in rangeland management” (84% of respondents). More than two-thirds of respondents wanted more opportunities for questions, interactive discussions and member participation in moderated scientific debate during sessions. Moreover, a majority (56%) disagreed with the statement “The meeting program provides opportunities for the society to engage with the public and diverse stakeholders.”
One respondent gave context to this concern in their comment: “I would like to see us move towards more discussion in small groups, and /or other mechanisms to facilitate how we benefit from each other's knowledge and feedback. Too often in "moderated" sessions, only senior scientists respond and the 'discussion' is dominated by a few voices who feel confident saying something in that context, while no one else talks. If we want to meaningfully learn from each other, we need to have smaller groups (i.e., lower risk), and also make in investment in discussion - rather than tacking it on at the end and expecting discussion to arise naturally. In this demographic, I have rarely seen a good discussion arise naturally. I think fewer concurrent sessions would also help with this. Good discussions DO NOT arise when people only stop in for 1 session and then leave.”
Technical program: Regarding the format for the technical program, two-thirds of the respondents agreed with 1) “the program helps me learn about the implications and relevance of current rangeland science”, 2) “the symposium/session formats work for my learning style”, and 3) “the program generally provides information I can take to my work or home and use”. However, six in ten respondents expressed concern with “the meeting program frequently includes similar topics and speakers from year to year”, and one in three would like to see fewer concurrent sessions and presentations on proposed or unfinished work.
Engagement: Respondents offered a number of useful suggestions to improve the program. One individual noted: “[SRM] could have sessions focused on communicating emerging/current research efforts with outreach professionals (e.g. NRCS, University Extension).” Open (qualitative) responses to the survey also expressed concern that the meeting can become “an echo chamber” without opportunities for meaningful feedback and discussion. Members suggested using “ignite”, or short-format talks, moderated panels, and more technology to improve engagement and exchange. Another respondent noted that they would like the meeting to “Provide more opportunity for the field practitioners to provide papers and inputs.”
Student competitions: Respondents suggested improvements to student competitions. One wrote, “I'd like to see the schedule for the student competitions changed. The goal of the student competitions is to increase student attendance and interaction with professionals at the conference, but the students have almost no time to attend other aspects of the conference because they are constantly in competitions.” Another said the meeting should find “a different paradigm” for graduate student presentations and professional development to help create “a professional environment where people can improve their skills and benefit from each other.”
Who should we target for advertising to improve their attendance at the meeting? Over 80% of the respondents recommended “producers.” Almost half (45%) recommended the general public, while one in four suggested private industry and the media. Policy makers, non-governmental and environmental groups such as Ducks Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy, tribal groups, and other academic groups, such as the Ecological Society of America, were also recommended. One respondent suggested: “I would like to see more local political leaders attending the meeting and more recruiting efforts to entice them to attend. Also, more media coverage of the meeting to help get the message out about SRM, what we do and who is all involved.”
Incorporating Survey Feedback into the 2020 Annual Meeting: Survey feedback has been incorporated into the draft 2020 Annual Meeting program. The program emphasizes “transformation”, “student success” and “translation” as key themes. The technical program encompasses three days with efforts to improve accessibility, inclusivity and boundary-spanning components into the experience for attendees. A fourth day will emphasize 1) training and professional development, 2) demonstrations, and 3) education and outreach activities with the venue moving to the National Western complex. Technical program days have been modified to incorporate themed plenary sessions each morning with two keynote presentations followed by three concurrent sessions with invited speakers and interactive audience discussion addressing each day’s theme. The afternoon will include three concurrent sessions/discussions on topics determined by SRM members. A major shift in the program will be replacing the concurrent technical sessions on subject matter categories (e.g., Grazing Management) with concurrent pods of e-poster to ignite presentations and organized by key themes to facilitate discussion and interaction among attendees.
A second major change in the program is that Tuesday will be dedicated to showcasing “student success” with the morning plenary sessions focused on fostering student career and academic success across the society into the future. The afternoon sessions that day would be devoted to oral presentations by the High School Youth Forum, and undergraduate and graduate students.
The 2020 Annual Meeting Planning committee is sincerely appreciative of the time and effort SRM members for completing our 2017 questionnaire. We want to also thank the numerous attendees at the 2018 Annual Meeting in Sparks, NV, for stopping by our SRM 2020 booth display and providing additional comments and feedback on our draft Annual Meeting program. This interactive dialog among SRM members is valuable as the insights shared from the society’s diverse membership is being used to create a new “template” for your SRM Annual Meeting. We enthusiastically look forward to continued engagement with and transparency in exchange of information related to the Denver 2020 SRM Annual Meeting.
To see all survey results click here.
A message from the Annual Meeting Planning Committee