It is a great privilege to be able to fly to and attend conferences - a privilege not currently enjoyed by all. Experts argue that this exclusion of those unable to attend, whether for financial or other reasons, has been an issue for decades - as far back as 1963, UNESCO reported
on the “high levels of inaccessibility, poor distribution, lost research and language restrictions” inherent in academic, scientific and professional conferences. Little action has been seen in the intermediary fifty years, but in the current social climate, attitudes are seeing inevitable change.
“Institutional feet have been dragged” in addressing “long-standing calls to make meetings more accessible to a wider set of researchers, for instance those from resource-poor universities and those with disabilities” . Disability, health or childcare concerns or travel bans are no barrier to virtual.
A global socio-political trend towards equality of opportunity means pressure to address the current exclusion of those unable to attend due to disability, health and childcare or those from financially poorer institutions. In today’s world, people are growing eager for access to events. We include ourselves; Tevent's staff have felt this exclusion first-hand.
>160 TONS of CO2
¼ of Swedes have opted not to fly in the past year, due to the climate. Indeed, as climate warnings become ever more severe, the tide is turning in favour of Greta Thunberg’s “flygskam” ( or flight-shaming).
Ironically, the huge International Sustainable Development Conference required all attendees to fly to Colombia, while the World Water Congress summoned 19,000 delegates to Mexico. International delegates travel, on average, 7218 miles for a conference, primarily by air. The hypocrisy of these activities is rightly under fire
But it isn't enough only for those focused on the climate to reform - all sectors simply need to reduce current levels of flying, and very soon.
>$10B research waste
Conferences are calculated to surpass academic papers as the primary dissemination method for scientific ideas. Yet, vast amounts of scientific funding each year are lost due to their inefficiency.
Research makes clear
that even processing the titles of presented work to determine interest can require hours of reading, and beyond smaller events, it is simply too difficult to process the amount of information presented - a disconnect between research and distribution. It is impossible to estimate the ideas and progress lost to the world through this broken system.
Information is shared and accessed poorly. Focusing on one-way presentations is documented to be a poor way to share information communally. Concurrent talks are simply missed. Information is consistently unavailable after events. Skewed conference audiences can also leave behind global peers, limiting progress.
In one survey, just 2% of surveyed attendees in found conferences “useful and cost-effective”, whilst 44% complained of “no perceptible impact” on programme, policy or research. Academic conferences are expensive and broken - we need a simple, cheap and collaborative solution.
4.5x regular waste
The typical attendee produces 1.89 kg of waste per day
, 1.16 kg of which goes directly to landfill. When multiplied by thousands of attendees per conference across multiple days, the hugely concerning nature of this environmental degradation is all too clear.
Cost per attendee
The Costs of attending a conference are “astronomical” say The Guardian
, calculating the cost of attending a conference on Sustainable Development as equal to the monthly salary of a post-doc researcher. Naturally, many early career scholars struggle to attend, and monetary concerns in general are the biggest deterrent for prospective event attendees.
Expenditure on conference travel is $180 Billion in the USA alone - 55.4% of sector spending. In light of such a massive spend
, c. $1207 per domestic attendee, and $7201 per international attendee, it is perhaps unsurprising that ¼ of professors admit to submitting conference papers solely to gain funding to go. Another quarter would do the same if the situation arose.
These costs are only growing as rent and flight costs steadily rise, while organiser budgets were shrinking even in the years prior to the COVID pandemic. And, with 'eco-taxes' on the horizon set to shake the airline industry, it seems to us that physical event attendance can only go in one direction.
Barriers to Diversity
Traditional events have increasingly come under fire for being, as researcher Genine Hook
aptly puts it, ‘overrated, othering and compulsory’. The events market is exclusive to those who have the time, wealth and health to take multi-day trips worldwide- a demographic that fails to reflect society at large. This exclusivity is a hindrance; academia, for example, would unlock progress if work were shared among the global community rather than the few institutions who can fly a delegate to the conference. Representation matters, and a lack thereof hurts us all.
Redesigning virtual connections
We're designing Tevent to faithfully translate the interactivity and presence of in-person gatherings, while adding digital-only features that we can only wish for while offline.
Offering users the means to connect in real-time, based on a shared context, is the core of Tevent. It's effortless to spot an old friend while browsing around, or for an exhibitor to chat to those at their stand, or for attendees to mingle between tables in the Café. Wherever attendees are, their presence matters - to organisers or similar users sharing that space.
We give attendees and organisers not just structure and information, but also freedom; organisers, exhibitors and attendees connect anytime, anywhere throughout the platform - we just handle the introduction.
We're also leveraging the potential of technology to improve the often overwhelming event experience. For too long, event networking has been a lottery, relying on luck to find the right people. Similarly, finding the right content can be almost impossible, with one conference researcher finding even the titles for presented work swamped the average user's processing capacity - let alone the papers themselves. Imagine events where you can see someone's business card before you start chatting, or where sessions are curated in real-time where organisers can see comprehensive breakdowns of event data. Imagine that? You don't have to.
Well, that would be telling. Before we release, we prefer not to share details of our innovative implementations. If you'd like to get on board with Tevent and become one of our Ambassadors, start here
Building a viable alternative
Why can’t any group, large or small, hold regular gatherings to network and share? Tevent has the potential to truly ‘level up’ events, moving them from an inaccessible, expensive option, requiring flying and days away from home each time, to a quick, convenient, and low-cost way for groups to convene, share information and network.
The landscape has vast potential for growth without current cost and accessibility barriers. Yet, no virtual platform truly translates events digitally - especially in main conference motivators.
The data above is from a study on motivators to attend conferences. It shows that the main source of value for attendees is the meeting and collaboration around talks with like-minded people, in a shared context, facilitating collaboration, recognition and connection. Money and time costs are the major deterrents to event participation. People want to network and share, without those physical trade-offs.
Live streams or webinars cannot provide spontaneous meetings, introductions and social recognition, whilst 'closed group' video calling is fundamentally designed for tight-knit calls between a few people whom it is assumed you already know. Video conferencing solutions were never designed for large groups of strangers, suffering from poor functionality and security. Cobbled-together events repurposing video-calling is a trend borne from necessity, not suitability.
Accidental disruptions are also common, whilst manually muting users, a common, inelegant workaround, is clunky and contradicts the fundamental purpose, implicitly blocking the only outlet for inter-attendee networking - we're back to the webinar.
Tevent's focus is on solving these problems by designing a new, viable alternative, with the social pull of traditional conferences but without the costliness and wasted time.