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  1. And here is this thought from Seth Godin regarding the best use of physical time spent together:
    “What would happen if trade shows devoted half a day to ‘projects’? Put multi-disciplinary teams of ten people together and give them three hours to create something of value. The esprit de corps created by a bunch of strangers under time pressure in a public competition would last for decades. The community is worth more than the project.”

    See the whole post at

  2. A couple ideas/thoughts

    *Spontaneity – any solution to the meeting would benefit from considering opportunities for synchronicity and spontaneous discussions. For many attendees, the meeting is as much, or more, about the meetings in the hallways – with a 'structured' alternative (virtual seminars), this element is missing. [Not that the replacement needs to be a single option, could be several and sold as an annual fee vs. event fee]. Nancy's suggestion carries some of that opportunity by bringing together local people. One of the advantages of a national meeting is stretching those connections outside the 'comfort zone'.

    So here are a couple thoughts to toss out there.
    – building off the local groups connecting to a national presentation: could the 'conference' be more focused on an issue (saying 'greening the museum' for example),
    1. a charge set [how can institutions with existing building redude their carbon footprint by 20%].
    2. Local regional assocations or states host 2-3 meetings in advance to generate ideas/create proposals
    3. Proposals posted to a shared learning space
    4. A national virtual symposium meets to discuss the options and create a shared body of knowledge.

    – Use video conferencing to allow for traditional presentations with Q&A (I mean, for the typical presentation, do we *really* need to be in the room?). Much of this software allows for the whole session to be captured and viewed later. As already exists in other venues, registration fees cover access to the materials for a year following. (whether people actually go??? dunno) A nice additional would be the creation of a wiki that over the year would continue to grow over time.

    – Finally (sorry this is so long), a discussion in the technology and learning world is how to support and incorporate what is called 'back channel discussions' into the structured learning experience (or is that an oxymoron.) An example of back channel is attendees in the session Twittering about the content – discussing, disagreeing, fact-checking. I haven't seen good solutions yet, but they are coming…

    Karen Bellnier
    Instructional Designer

  3. Another option: the National Museum Socialnetwork Simul-conference. Use twitter to arrange group meet ups at bars and restaurants around the country, and people post the best insights to the web as they talk and drink!

  4. Hi Beth

    I have some ideas but am still working on putting them together for you. You are right about the same 5000 people getting together each year but in a different city. It was always my experience that one had to find the few cutting edge sessions at the conference and attend those but most of the real conversations happened in the evenings around drinks at the hotel bar or some cool place someone discovered and told us about. Sometimes it was a pool hall or a country western bar or the Elvis look alike bar called the Liberty Bell in Philly. Have no idea if of is still there.

  5. I am fascinated by this, esp. as I have stepped up my volunteer participation in the Western Museums Association.

    One, despite this post the WMA still hopes and expects to see you in San Diego in ’09, bringin’ it on like you are doing here.

    Two, it is so necessary that professional associations break the complete reliance on the carbon-based conference. this is why I have pushed for the WMA to get a blog and start getting LinkedIn, etc. Please see

    And I insist we broadcast post-conference as a reference tool, as most conferences have been doing on-line for a long time and perhaps Museums and the Web is very best at that. ( ) And maybe because as Archivists and Technologists it was one of their founding purposes.

    Museum general-practitioner type conferences like AAM and “the regionals” definitely have to get their act together to stay relevant and sustainable. AAM is doing a good job — CFM, for example and their active use of on-line sessions through out the year.

    And it is important to recognize that some museum professional organizations only exist on-line. Please see the Center for the Future of Museums (e.g., here) and museums 3.0 ( )

    Three, and or lastly — awwwww. conferences are fun. people. places. smiling. touching. crying. laughing. visceral, life-affirming, human exchanges that transcend space and time and help us find the real and emotional space that can define the professional life we are all forced to find meaning through in capitalist society.

  6. The benefit of offering conference materials and experiences online is that there are many museum professionals who can’t afford to attend far-flung conferences. There are many voices that haven’t ever been heard (although the benefit, of course, is that they also haven’t had a large carbon footprint from travel). I like the idea of an online component with a local gathering.

  7. Perhaps it is time to ask ourselves what the purpose is in attending meetings? If it is for the information presented in the sessions, then that is something that could be presented in various formats on the web. If it is to visit the trade show, much could be done on the web, but at the cost of one-on-one, face-to-face, feel-the-product interactions. I suspect the main value of meetings is neither of these, however–it is the interactions with colleagues, which is much harder to replace. Perhaps a series of scaled-down, regional meetings (in more regions that AAM presently uses) is one option.

    Two comments about carbon offsets. (1) It is a way for those who have money to go ahead and pollute, guilt-free. (2) The real need is for means of transportation that have a lower carbon footprint, but that is an infrastructure problem beyond the means of AAM to solve (e.g., why can’t we all take the train to Philly? Because few trains run to Philly).

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