It is conference season and once again I find myself in that impossible position of wanting to be in three places at the same time. AORE (the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education) will be in Asheville, NC this November. AEE (the Assoc. for Experiential Education) will be in Little Rock, and WRMC (Wilderness Risk Managers Conference) I believe will be held in Banff, Canada around the same time. First, I understand that each of these conferences serve niche groups with specialized knowledge and practice. I also understand that a little diversity is a good thing in terms of creating smaller conferences that can engender a sense of community. But does anyone else think we are missing out on an opportunity here? When I attend any of these conferences (not to mention or leave out ACCT or WEA) I see mostly the same people. And, during conversations about why they are there, I often hear things like “well, I come to XXXX conf. every other year because I also want to and need to go to XXXX conference as well.” Meanwhile, I believe each conference has struggled in the past with a critical membership and participation level.
My radical vision: that we have one, mega conference that combines all of these under one, big umbrella. Call it the International Conference on Outdoor and Experiential Education, for example. Figure out some way of splitting the revenue (perhaps by categorizing folks underneath Special Interest Groups). Why? Because such a conference would be vastly better attended than what we all experience currently. It would also be more cost effective as we would have more bargaining power with possible host sites. It would create a greater sense of community and interaction. It would also present a greater platform for research, practice, and (importantly) lobbying as we can speak with one voice as an industry on matters that are important to us. And, all of us who have to fly all over the place (carbon anyone?) can concentrate on one key date on the calendar.
Will this happen? I am not holding my breath. There are significant obstacles (both financial and ideological) that would make this vision difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, for an industry that prides itself on the values of teamwork, community building, and pushing beyond the comfort zone it seems ironic that we would be so entrenched in our ways even when the results of our current conference system are mixed at best.
Are you with me? If not, post a reply as to why. Let’s dialogue about it. If you are with me (at least in principle if not in the details) then go to your conference(s) this fall and tell the board you want to see change toward this kind of model. After all, these associations are supposed to be member driven. Together we stand, divided we falter.