How to make a conference inclusive? Guidelines, reflections, and lessons learnt. By Alice Damiano
Multiple types of diversity.
Multiple layers of combined diversities.
Tolerance, acceptance, respect, inclusion.
These topics have been receiving increasing attention over the past years, both in and outside of academia. When it comes to academia, the need to have universities, curricula, activities, and dialogues that are truly inclusive has been expressed with determination and urgency, finally getting the attention it deserves. And now that academia has become aware that some people(s) have systematically experienced barriers to participation in academic life, there is no coming back: after all, academia is about improving human knowledge and addressing humanity’s issues, and exclusion within academia is an issue too serious to be left unaddressed. It would be true, but limiting, to assert that academia needs a diversity of voices to expand its horizons, and that fields like Ecological Economics can benefit from including more voices: yes, diversity enhances the quality of academic activities, but the issue of lack of inclusion and diversity needs to be addressed first and foremost because it is the right thing to do, as human beings respectful of other human beings.
It is with this mindset that in the 2018-2019 academic year I decided, as part of my involvement with Economics for the Anthropocene, to volunteer as Equity and Inclusion Lead (role shared with Sarah-Louise Ruder) at the 2019 Conference of the Canadian Society for Ecological Economics (CANSEE), Engaging Economies of Change, held in Waterloo (Ontario). The other conference organizers and I worked together and individually to make the conference inclusive—we researched, we learnt, we exchanged knowledge with one another, we tried our best to practice what we were learning, sometimes we made mistakes, and we learnt from them too. We were aware that our work to make the 2019 CANSEE conference inclusive—a drop in the sea of efforts that are needed to make academia inclusive—was just the beginning of a long-term process that would have continued after the conference. And for this reason, after the conference I started compiling a document titled Guidelines for the Organization of Inclusive Conferences, including all the lessons learnt from this experience, integrated with personal knowledge and lessons learnt from other conferences I attended as a participant.
The first version of this document was completed in 2020 and shared internally within CANSEE, so that it could be used for the organization of future CANSEE conferences. Now, in 2023, a second version of this document is ready to be shared with the general public, available to anyone who is interested in reading about inclusive conferences. This document is titled Guidelines for the Organization of Inclusive Conferences—Lessons learnt from the volunteering experience as Equity and Inclusion Lead at the 2019 Conference of the Canadian Society for Ecological Economics (CANSEE), and it is available below.
Credits of the cover image: taken by Sophie Sanniti at the CANSEE 2018 Student Symposium