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Icon’s impact: a 'Pared-Down' Conference With High Engagement

In 2015 the Icon Book & Paper Group held its first conference, Adapt and Evolve: an ambitious venture that included international speakers, breakout sessions with talks and demonstrations, a trade fair, and corporate sponsorship. While the event was successful, it created a considerable burden on our committee and conference sub-committee in a way that wasn’t sustainable for something we wanted to do every three years. For our 2018 conference, Unexpected Fame, we wanted to produce a conference that was high quality but also less of a burden on volunteers. We wanted to set ticket prices to break even, or make a small surplus, while still being low enough to avoid straining budgets as many conservators struggle to gain financial support for professional development. We also wanted speakers to be able to attend for free and to set templates for programmes and post prints that could be reused to streamline future conference preparation.

We delivered a pared-down conference: no concurrent sessions, no trade fair, no conference totes (how many are in your closet already?!) or notebooks – just a simple A5 printed programme. We set the budget conservatively, based on getting some sponsorship and selling more reduced-price and early-bird tickets rather than highest-priced tickets. We didn’t get the fanciest lunch options (though we did prioritise a constant flow of tea and coffee). We had a discount on the venue through work connections. We accidentally (!) got more sponsorship than expected, and chose not to do some of the things that we initially planned to spend money on. We did all this without significant help from the central office (as we’d needed for Adapt and Evolve), which freed up their time for other important work. In the end, the conference comprised two days of great talks and a third day of tours in locations normally closed to visitors. We had a special evening drinks reception at the Pitt Rivers Museum and made a surplus of £11,000. We had approximately 30% attendance from outside the UK, and 20 new people joined Icon. We were tired afterwards, but not completely burned out.

For our next conference in 2021, we continue our commitment to affordable tickets, and we are adding two goals: facilitating remote attendance and producing a “greener” event. Live streaming the conference will allow people to attend all or part of the conference in situations when travel or time off from work may be difficult; if some people choose to attend remotely rather than travel it would also lower our overall climate impact. Making more environmentally-friendly choices is the right thing to do and we hope comes without explanation! Some choices, like providing vegetarian catering only, and not extras like bags and lanyards, will also help keep the budget under control.

We feel these goals are ambitious for a committee of volunteers, but we are committed to making positive contributions to Icon as a whole in terms of supporting professional development, providing value for members and supporting the finances of the organisation. We hope that our examples help others to run similar events that are affordable to participants and manageable in scope. We’re happy to talk to other Icon members about the lessons we’ve learned from the Unexpected Fame conference.

Feedback from conference participants: 

“Nice blend of context, problem solving and technical know-how”

“...did an excellent job of not only describing treatments, but unpacking the ethical issues of 'unexpected fame’”




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