Communities & Communication Conference – April 2021
Last week, well Saturday  to be precise, I was a speaker at Staffordshire Universities Communities and Communication: Interdisciplinary international Conference and Festival. I was there to present a paper with the elegant title  of The Transformative Evolution of an Early Career Researcher Editorial Community. In essence, I aimed to briefly explore the configuration of our long-running institutionally based open-access, interdisciplinary journal published by the Institute of Advanced Study at the University of Warwick.
If you weren’t at the conference, you missed what was a very engaging and varied day. Alongside a series of insightful keynotes, there were two streams of breakout sessions looking at different aspects of ‘communities’ from local, to performative, through institutional and those in a learning configuration. It was in this latter category that my paper featured. Personally, a real highlight of the day was the keynote from Nicola Twemlow Who Knows Best: The Value in Communities. While Nicola had a lot of inspiring things to share from her own experience and activities, she also introduced me to the rather useful participation tool Vevox. Seeing a living, evolving world cloud appear organically from the delegates during Nicola’s talk, gave me some ideas on how to pep up some future training engagements of my own.
In terms of my own contribution, the paper began by exploring the genesis of the Exchanges journal, and the history of our editorial community. From its beginnings as a small collective offshoot from our local Early Career Fellows (ECF) programme in 2013, through to its international, expanded representational membership today. Interestingly, for the first time anywhere, I put together a potted history of how the journal had changed over time, which required a little bit of background digging in our archives, combined with a few conversations with longer standing Editorial Board members.
My discussions continued through an exploration of the special issues which have served to bolster and reconfigure our activities since the beginning of 2019. In particular, I illustrated how our title’s developmental and discourse twin missions resonated with this new direction for the title, alongside seeing a resultant revalorisation of our work in the eyes of our publishing institution. The paper offered a few suggestions about the tangible benefits perceived through our associate editors’ programme, stemming from a series of semi-structured interviews held with the post holders, considering what relevance their insights offered in terms of future projects, editorial training and scheme recruitment.
Moreover, the paper concluded with a brief examination of the unique operational, ideological and communicative challenges faced by the journal. Part of me feels this section in particular could be problematised in another paper at a future event, although likely to a different audience. Finally, the talk wrapped up with a few brief thoughts on the lessons learned by the journal, alongside its emerging new priorities and future plans.
While not the most ground-breaking of talks, it was deeply fulfilling to have the paper warmly received by the hosts and delegates to the conference. Hopefully, there will be a recording of the paper made live in the near future, but for the paper’s title link above will take you to the slides.
Overall, then, despite the (common) technically challenges faced by running online events, with participants around the globe using variable machine configurations, the hosts handled everything with good humour and great aplomb. If anything, they managed to convey a sense of calm, cool, and connected operations managing things behind the scenes – although from my own experience I expect this means they were all running themselves ragged to give such a polished performance. Certainly, in marked contrast with my somewhat frustrating experiences at the IATL conference the previous week, I had a seamless presentation experience, despite falling over my own words a few times. And as a delegate, access to papers and sessions was near faultless!
I think my one regret was not having any time to take part in the ‘random networking’ opportunities, and while ‘chat roulette’ might not have been everyone’s cup of tea, it was a great innovation to try and engender a feeling of ‘presence’ at a virtual event. My thanks therefore, to all the organisers and speakers alike for a day it was worth taking out of my weekend!
 I remain baffled while culture and communications conference always seem to be hosted at the weekend! It doesn’t seem to be ‘a thing’ in the STEM disciplines.
 IMHO at least. It tied the paper into the conference theme quite neatly.