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  • Writer's pictureHannah Walker

'Flipping the Tin' podcast episode 1: Digital/Hybrid Events and Sustainability

If you didn’t already know, we have launched a new podcast called Flipping the Tin! We chat with industry specialists, policymakers, and conference attendees on the future of events. In our first episode, we have distinguished guests Professor Susan Nacey and Dr Bodo Winter to discuss their experiences of digital events and the route to sustainability within academic conferencing.

Susan Nacey is a Professor of English as a second/foreign language. Her current position is vice dean for research at the faculty of education as part of inland Norway University of applied science. She's a linguist who focuses on investigating metaphor in different types of spoken and written discourse.

Dr Bodo Winter is a senior lecturer at the department of linguistics at the University of Birmingham. He's a linguist studying the intersection of language and perception with a focus on gesture and multimodal communication.

1. What is your experience with digital conferencing so far?

Susan: When the coronavirus hit in March I was in the midst of planning a physical conference that was going to take place in Norway in June 2020 and then I suddenly had to do something with that and rather than canceling I chose to go digital, so that was my very first experience with digital conferences.

Bodo: I was also in a similar position as Susan, I was planning to do a physical conference when the pandemic hit. I was ready to cancel the event but luckily I got persuaded not to do that and it ended up being a huge success. In particular, by moving things virtually, we were able to actually reach many more people than we could have had.

2. What has been your experience with in-person academic conferences from a sustainability perspective?

Susan: These conferences were not sustainable, not in terms of a people perspective - people with money can travel to these conferences but people who don’t can’t. In terms of what the planet needs, obviously all of this travel is not what we need. Also profits, it costs a lot of money. People, the planet, and profits are not sustainable.

Bodo: Organizers were of course sort of signaling to their audiences and their delegates that they were trying to do the most when it comes to sustainability. So they were getting eco cups and all of those sorts of things, maybe vegetarian food, but all of that dwarfs the travel costs from an environmental perspective.

3. How do you think the pandemic has affected academic conferencing?

Bodo: Before, nobody really thought about the idea that virtual conferencing was valuable. Now that we know how that works and we know that these conferences are actually really interesting and really valuable as well I think going forward people are going to ask themselves the question: do I want to actually organize a physical event or do I want to organize a virtual event? We can actually sort of going back to the drawing board and think about why we get together, what is the purpose of these meetings and how can we actually sort of redesign that space.

4. What do you feel digital conferencing brings to the table in terms of sustainability?

Susan: I have a long list of things but the most obvious of course is a smaller carbon footprint. Lower costs make it economically more feasible for people from different countries to attend. Time is money - they save time because they don’t have to travel. I asked our conference delegates afterward if they could think of anything good about digital conferences and they came up with a long list, a surprisingly long list, of positive points. Many mention greater accessibility for all sorts of reasons because lots of people can't go to conferences. They have family commitments, they have work commitments, they have health considerations, they have geopolitical barriers. They can't get a visa or their institution won't let them travel if they don't present a paper or if it's just too far to travel. They can now come to a conference and participate. It gives us an equal level playing field.

There is much more said on the topic of digital/hybrid conferencing in this episode! If you want to listen to the full podcast and find out more about their opinions and advice on sustainable events, click through to the link here:


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