I have posted here previously about my views on the current conference structure/environment in outdoor/experiential education but now I would like to propose a specific way forward in the hopes that it might get some folks talking and (just maybe) get the folks with AORE/AEE/WRMC/WEA talking with one another. As the previous sentence reveals, we have a veritable mess of organizations and conference associations for such a small field. While to some degree "diversity is strength" I believe in this particular case it is not. While I do not have current numbers at my fingertips, I would hazard that none of these conferences has attendance over 1,000 and many/most hover between 250-800. I also know, from conversations with folks at the various associations, that budgets are very, very tight. Given this backdrop, does it make sense to have not 1, not 2, but at least 3 different associations and conferences happening around the same time year after year? I don't believe it does.
In my perfect world, we would simply merge at least AEE and AORE into one, larger association and all would be right for the world. For anyone that knows the history of these two "cultures" I would say that my hopes for such a merger are slim at best. But, there are other creative ways forward! I suggest that each year the three conferences (AEE, AORE, WRMC) come together at the same location for their conferences. Participants could then sign up for "packages" that would consist of various "tracks" and/or Special Interest Groups. Cost sharing would consist of a set conference fee plus additional fees for the various tracks signed up for. Many conferences have similar set-ups.
The advantages to this are numerous. All associations would save on conference hosting costs as we could share costs among larger organizations. Vendors would be thrilled with more potential customers and we would likely get higher vendor participation and advertising potential. With more people, we would have better bargaining power with catering, hotels, etc. Imagine a conference titled "International Conference on Outdoor and Experiential Educational" or something of the like that drew 1500-2000 attendees rather than several hundred. Students, vendors, scholars, practitioners could all attend because this would be the ONE conference to attend, to network, and to learn and grow professionally.
It's time to change the paradigm. It's time to think boldly so that we can better serve our constituencies. Are there issues? Sure. But you cannot tell me those are not petty compared with the benefits of a larger gathering of folks. We can make it work. Isn't that, after all, one of the educational tenets we claim to espouse in this field-- collaboration, creativity, and cooperation?