Humanizing the … Proposal Submission Process?

Laramie Square, Denver

Denver awaits!

 

April is almost here, which means the Call for Proposals for the MCN 2018 annual conference in Denver is just around the corner! Some of you may already be thinking about what you’d like to present in November but also, and perhaps just as important, what you’d like to hear from your peers.

In his post How Might We last month, Greg Albers asked us all to consider:

How Might We make each session unique?

This question led us to make some changes to the Call for Proposal process, which we’re sharing with you below.

Click on each of the items below to read more about the changes we’ve made to the program and the proposal process.

Making Tracks

Over the years, many of you have repeatedly asked for an easier way to search the program, and specifically, an easier way to find the sessions that interest you. We listened.

This year, we’re introducing two changes. First, we no longer ask you to tag your own proposal from a list of 25 keywords. Instead, the Program Committee will do this during the review process. Second, we’re introducing four tracks that essentially represent the various practice areas currently covered by MCN’s Special Interest Groups:

  • Content
  • Strategy
  • Systems
  • Experience

Simplifying the tagging process to these 4 tracks will make navigating the conference program and identifying the sessions you want to attend easier.

Speaking of SIGs … MCN now counts 11 SIGs that are active year-round. Because of the work they do and the discussions they have around their respective practice area, SIGs are a great resource for all of you to tap into, even if you belong to a few of them, or none at all. We encourage all of you to reach out to our SIGs to discuss ideas about possible sessions or topics and for suggestions about potential co-presenters.

Which leads to our next item …

Session Formats and Timing

Less is more. This year, you’ll only have 2 options for the duration of your session: a 30 minute session and a 60 minute session. That’s it. No more 15-minute case studies and 90-minute in-depth panels.

A 30-minute session can be a case study about one project or two related projects (with a preference for two presentations from different institutions), or a presentation on a more general discussion of a particular topic. A 30-minute session can have up to three speakers.

We know that the 15-minute case study format did provide an easy entry point for MCN community members wanting to make a brief presentation, so we ask you not to think of this format change as the end of the case study, but as incentive to pair up with another presenter—or, if you don’t have someone in mind, to contact the Program team, jump onto the MCN Slack Channel, or reach out to a SIG to find someone to present with.

A 60-minute session can be a presentation offering a deeper dive into a particular topic, with up to five speakers (note the speaker limit—more on that below), or a “hands-on” technology demonstration with articulated learning outcomes (though not as intense as a half-day workshop). We believe that the five-speaker limit will incentivize discussion and audience participation. Note that all 60-minute sessions will have the option to opt for using Slido for live audience polling and question up-voting during your presentation. You will be required to participate in an online demo during the summer if you wish to use Slido in your session.

Our traditional Tuesday half-day workshops remain part of the program.

And the same holds for our popular Ignite talks, a series of five-minute, 20-slide presentations, which traditionally kicks off the conference on Tuesday night; click here for video of last year’s talks and also visit Koven Smith’s 2017 blog post on submitting an Ignite proposal. Also, we’ll make sure the location of the Ignite venue offers more opportunities to meet and congregate with your fellow MCNers when the event concludes.

Finally, we’re continuing with last year’s wide-open, “other format” proposals—you’re welcome to suggest a session like last year’s popular Green Room, #MCNergy, Listening Lounge, and “Slow Change” silent disco. (You can read more about this innovative format here.) This is not, however, a pass to propose a longer version of a 60-minute session. Think hard about what a longer-timed session will accomplish and what kind of set-up you will require. A single session can’t easily be granted consecutive blocks of time in the same space. Be persuasive! Note that “other format” proposals can involve a larger number of participating presenters, but please discuss with the Program team ahead of time.

New Voices and New Takes on Current Ideas

How Might We” also asked us to consider:

How might we ensure new ideas don’t crowd out important fundamentals and big thinking doesn’t replace hands-on skills?

Regarding the proposals themselves, we are trying to further open up the sessions for presentations by attendees who haven’t spoken before, as well as emphasizing new perspectives on important topics which we hear about every year. We’ll be asking during the submission process if proposers have presented on this topic before, and how often speakers have presented at MCN in the past. Please don’t think of this as a limit as much as a call for expanding the horizons of our discussions. Come up with unique takes and bring in current trends on issues of interest to all. Think hard about what your proposal is really adding to the reflection on your topic.

If we haven’t heard from you at MCN, we want to hear from you! We’re asking MCN veterans and newbies alike to reach across the experience aisle and bring people who haven’t presented often to the stage. For newcomers, propose sessions on what you want to learn and hear about. Use social, or SIGs, or even contact the Program chairs if you’d like help in building a team for a proposal with new people and new ideas, whether it’s hands-on approach that’ll give attendees new skills they can take back to their institutions, or a deep dive into issues that are bedeviling the field. Think about the problems that you want solved—chances are, there’s someone out there in the community who would love to get involved and join you.

Now, about that submission process … 

Some Tough Love on Submitting (and Changing) Proposals

Last year we received 205 proposals, and while it’s a joy getting so much input and participation from the community, too many proposals were submitted in various stages of incompleteness: some showed “speakers TBD” or speakers were listed in the wrong field, some were missing short or long abstracts, others didn’t list the session leader and co-presenters correctly, others were missing bios or emails for speakers, which made contacting session participants more difficult.

While we understand that submitting a conference proposal is often time-consuming, reviewing incomplete proposals makes our job much harder: remember that Program Committee members are volunteers.  

So, this year we’ll start to require more complete information on speakers as well as a single 200-word abstract. (No more information TBD!) In addition, sessions cannot be contingent on data or community case studies still to be performed. This year, all submissions will be vetted before the review process begins, and submissions deemed incomplete will be returned to the session proposer, who will have up to 72 hours to re-submit, at which point the deadline will be final and any proposals still incomplete will not be considered.  

We will, however, allow editing of submitted proposals before the Call closes on April 30. In addition, after acceptances are sent out in June, all requests for changes to sessions will have to be made via a Google Form, not by email. These requests will be reviewed within 48 hours by the Program Team.  

Speakers for accepted sessions will have until the end of June to confirm acceptance and until the end of August to join MCN and register for the conference (except for US government federal employees). We understand that your ability to register may be dependent on your institution’s funding, and that timing often fluctuates, but speakers not registered by that date will not be able to participate in the session.

But it’s not all about rules. We’re also serious about your professional development. “How Might We” also invited us to consider:

How might we help speakers become better teachers and also partners in the success of the conference?

Workshop presenters will be asked to indicate their previous experience level at teaching workshops, and will need to provide a detailed agenda. All accepted workshop presenters will be required to participate (sometime over the summer) in an online training session designed to refine your skills as a workshop leader. Remember, workshops are optional—they cost more for attendees to register and often require they spend an extra day at the conference. As such, MCN needs to ensure that workshops deliver the value and quality attendees should expect.

Look for ideas and teaching tips in the coming months for presenters in regular conference sessions as well. MCN will continue to support all our presenters between now and November.

All presenters for accepted sessions will be required to read and sign the Presenters Guidelines, which have been updated to reflect the changes mentioned in this post. Please read it carefully before you submit a proposal as it answers many questions you might have about the conference. Reading it closely may help you avoid panicked questions later! There will be a quiz and prizes!

A Word on the “Chatham House” Rule

All sessions during MCN’s annual conference areby defaultaudio-recorded, supported by an open social media policy. However, we understand that, in the interests of open dialogue, some session organizers might wish for anonymity. This year, you’ll have the option to check a box next to Chatham House rule to indicate that you prefer anonymity for your session. By capturing that preference in the submission process, MCN will also be able to indicate that preference in the online and printed program; later requests can be made using the Session Changes form. Session leaders will need to clearly let their attendees know, at the start of their session, just what this means.

So Get Your Proposals Ready … 

By making these changes to the call for proposals process, we wanted to address many of the issues and suggestions from the feedback you gave us on previous conferences. Ultimately, we hope you’ll find they translate into a better conference experience for all of us. The point, after all, is not only these three or four days in November, but the year-round contributions we all make to the field and the community of ideas and mission we all share. Please let us know your thoughts and your questions, on the submissions process or any topic at all, at any time by writing to program@mcn.edu. And we hope to see your proposals soon!

Your Program Team
Robert Weisberg, Catherine Devine, and Adrienne Lalli Hills, co-chairs

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MCN 2018: Humanizing the Digital

Star Trek the Next Generation GIF

Have you ever wondered how the MCN Program Committee chooses the conference theme? It’s often a messy but always a very thoughtful process.

In early February, as we started to contemplate possible directions for themes for this year’s conference, we (the Program Co-Chairs) invited Program Committee members to consider these questions:

  • How have current events and non-museum trends intersected with our work? Alternatively, how can they inform our work?
  • What are the big opportunities and challenges facing our community of practice?
  • What’s exciting in the world of museum tech and how could it transform your work?

The discussions quickly turned into an incisive analysis of our field, future, and wider cultural context. In a freewheeling thread of 60+ posts, we canvassed the Museums are Not Neutral movement, Net Neutrality, activism and resistance, and equity, accessibility, and inclusion. We asked how museums can establish public trust and foster meaningful discourse and personal connections in a time of discord and disinformation, and noted the ways in which we’ve recently seen the promise of technology flounder in biased algorithms, fake news, and the invective of online trolls and bots. At the same time, we celebrated the transformative power of digital tools and how essential they are to our everyday work as well as to our institutions’ respective missions.

In short, we found ourselves extolling the virtues of profoundly human qualitiesempathy, communication, creativity, and inquirywithin the context of planning for a museum technology conference. Wait… isn’t that a bit contradictory?

Lieutenant Commander Data GIF

Program Committee member Chad Weinard helped us see this through thereby coalescing the general thinking:

“… I’ve been working lately with digital humanities projects in academia, which empower humanities research with digital tools and mindsets (digitization, visual analysis, etc.). That’s great work, but I’m feeling over the past year that another, perhaps more urgent task, is the reverse … making technology culture more human. Museums may have a role both in digitizing humanities and humanizing the digital.

Hence, Humanizing the Digital was born. Because we recognize the diversity of professional disciplines within the MCN community, we wanted to make sure that this year’s theme could kindle vibrant dialogue among all circles, from IT to interpretive media. In fact, we intentionally tested that further by asking Program Committee members to “try on” the theme as a way to generate ideas for would-be sessions to gauge alignment with the theme. For reference, here are a few examples of what sessions could focus on: 

  • Digital leadership and strategy
  • Ethical responsibilities of museums in the digital age
  • Public communication and advocacy
  • Using technology to build empathy, foster dialogue, and inspire positive change
  • Hands-on and participatory solutions to specific museum technology problems

But wait a minute: wasn’t the MCN 2016 theme The Human-Centered Museum? Indeed it was, and it does share a similar focus with Humanizing the Digital. But we’re hoping for 2018 to be a continuation of the rich discourse that blossomed in New Orleans. In addition, we also believe that Humanizing the Digital takes on new dimension, and a gravitas of it own, in light of the profound social and cultural changes that we’ve witnessed over the past few years.

We look forward to seeing the proposals for workshops, sessions, or talks that Humanizing the Digital will inspire you to submit, as well as the ensuing conversations—both online and IRL. Stay tuned for upcoming updates on the conference keynote speaker, and the call for proposals, which will be live April 1-30.

Lieutenant Commander Data GIF

 

 

 

 

 

In parting, we invite you to look to Lieutenant Commander Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, for inspiration:  

If being human is not simply a matter of being born flesh and blood, if it’s simply a way of thinking, acting, and feeling, then I am hopeful that one day I will discover my own humanity. Until then, I will continue learning, changing, growing, and trying to become more than what I am.

 

-Adrienne Lalli Hills, Rob Weisberg, and Catherine Devine

MCN 2018 Conference Program Co-Chairs

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