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I have noticed that there is no real workshop or conference in my particular field of research, that tends to be across different fields (for instance, security and risk). There are of course general conferences where I can submit a paper, but they are very general (i.e. either security, or risk), and somehow, I'd sometimes rather gather at the same place and the same time the small community who is working on this particular topic.

So, my question is: how do I create a workshop/conference? In particular, how to define the steering committee/general chair/PC chair/PC Committee? Is it better to be attached with a major conference? (I know some conferences have "call for workshops").

I'm interested both in technical answers and in useful advices (for instance, I guess that technically, you could create PC with only postdocs, but I can imagine that in practice, you need a good ratio of established researchers).

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    PS I used security and risk just as an example, there are actually conferences specifically interested in security and risk. – user102 Mar 13 '12 at 8:45
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Creating a conference is a very worthwhile activity—however, even organizing a two-day workshop can be a logistical nightmare that requires a dedicated support staff to pull off efficiently. If you don't have it, you can still get it done, but it still requires a lot of planning and a lot of effort.

I was invited to participate in the scientific committee for a workshop to be held here on campus and hosted by my institute. Even though we had the administrative staff taking care of organizing room reservations, hotel blocks, catering, name badges, preparation of the formal program, and so on, there's still a lot of work involved, particularly if you're the chair. You'll need to contact (and sometimes harass) speakers, look for funding, recruit attendees, advertise like crazy, and so much more.

However, if you can make your workshop a part of someone else's existing conference, then you can remedy many of these problems—the existing conference's infrastructure goes a long way in supporting your workshop and its goals. Frankly, if I was going to try to start a new workshop that would take on its own independent existence, that's the route I'd choose. If the workshop inside of another conference received good feedback, only then would I try to make it an independent event in the future. In that time, you'd also have figured out who the other "major players" are who could serve on future scientific committees.


The conference we started was created by our institute, so dividing up the responsibilities was relatively natural: the head of the institute was the head of the conference, and we divided up the work of programming the sessions among the members of the committee. If you don't have that option available—if, for instance, you're the primary mover and shaker behind the workshop—that puts more work on your plate.

If you're doing a workshop under the aegis of a larger program, then I would think you would be the chair of the program. You could select other people to be on the organizing committee, but as the person doing the recruiting, you're going to be the one the others look to for guidance and decision-making—at least at first.

So I think the "founder" is going to be the general chair or the organizational chair, at least the first time around. Should the conference survive to have a second iteration, then at that point establishing some sort of successorship makes a lot of sense, because nobody really wants to go through the process of organizing all of those details every other year; it's too much work.

But, if you want to know, the order did go something like this:

  • Steering committee of institute decided to hold conference
  • Steering committee appointed emeritus faculty member as program committee leader.
  • Steering committee appointed junior faculty as committee members.
  • Program committee came up with several tentative plans.
  • Steering committee decided on final overall structure.
  • Program committee scrambled to find speakers to fit new structure decided on by SC.
  • Program committee puts together advertising, recruits speakers, organizes poster session, organizes conference structure, and performs other duties as needed.
  • Organizing team handles payments, attendance and registration issues, travel and accommodation issues, operation of conference, and so on.

The other thing to consider is that the planning for something like this typically requires on the order of 12 to 18 months, even if you're just doing an event locally hosted at your university (like ours was). For something more complicated, you may need even more lead time.

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    Thanks for your answer, I indeed had the feeling that it would be easier to create a workshop co-located with a conference. However, I'd be curious, even in this case, to know what's the step-by-step process? I have a vague idea, but it would be helpful (and I guess not only for me :)) to have a precise process, if you have one, of course :) – user102 Mar 13 '12 at 10:38
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Depending on your field, sources of funding and/or professional organisations can provide a lot of logistic support to organising a workshop. In mathematics for example, the mathematics institute of Oberwolfach runs workshops and miniworkshops in all subfields. The organiser propose a workshop, and if it gets approved, the institute takes care of most of the logistics. Other similar opportunities in mathematics include the Mathematical research communities program of American Mathematical Society, and the SQuaRes program of the American Institute of Mathematics, as well as workshops organised by the Clay Mathematical Institute or the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley CA.

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I'd like to add some info to the above provided answers, that are, IMHO, very well-explained and helpful.

If your research field is not very mature yet, you could also think about organizing a "summer school", in which you could invite some well-recognized researchers to serve as lecturers, especially with some practical experience (not only from the research env.), for you (and your attendance, as well) to have a broader view on the field.

The environment provided by a summer school is really nice (I've got the experience of organizing a series of summer schools in my research field, for a couple of years), and you may provide your attendance with an opportunity to "keep in touch" with good "names" in the specific research field, most of them that we usually reference in our papers.

Regarding the organization, a summer school is usually not paper-driven, i.e., you don't have to care about steering and program committees, so it may save you some effort. In addition, you don't have to care about proceedings (usually expensive to prepare, and to print... even if you think about publishing it online only, you will have some effort and costs to deal with).

Indeed, you must care about funding, in order to pay for the hotels/airline tickets/food, etc, that, sometimes only counting on the money from registrations is not enough.

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Here's some insight on the behind-the-scenes at NIPS:

Inverse Probability. 'NIPS: Decision Time'. Last modified 2014. Accessed September 27, 2014. http://inverseprobability.com/2014/09/13/nips-decision-time/.

So the decisions have been out for a few days now, and of course we have had some queries about our processes. Every one has been pretty reasonable, and their frustration is understandable when three reviewers have argued for accept but the final decision is to reject. This is an issue with ‘space-constrained’ conferences. Whether a paper gets through in the end can depend on subjective judgements about the paper’s qualities. In particular, we’ve been looking for three components to this: novelty, clarity and utility. Papers with borderline scores (and borderline here might be that the average score is in the weak accept range) are examined closely. The decision about whether the paper is accepted at this point necessarily must come down to judgement, because for a paper to get scores this high the reviewers won’t have identified a particular problem with the paper. The things that come through are how novel the paper is, how useful the idea is, and how clearly it’s presented. Several authors seem to think that the latter should be downplayed. As program chairs, we don’t necessarily agree. It’s true that it is a great shame when a great idea is buried in poor presentation, but it’s also true that the objective of a conference is communication, and therefore clarity of presentation definitely plays a role. However, it’s clear that all these three criteria are a matter of academic judgement: that of the reviewers, the area chair and the quad groups in the teleconferences. All the evidence we’ve seen is that reviewers and area chairs did weigh these aspects carefully, but that doesn’t mean that all their decisions can be shown to be right, because they are often a matter of perspective. Naturally authors are upset when what feels like a perfectly good paper is rejected on more subjective grounds. Most of the queries are on papers where this is felt to be the case.

Also has some other articles that are relevant, such as on NIPS Reviewer Recruitment.

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    Usually, it's better to avoid link-only answers: in case the link is broken, the content is lost. It would be better to quote the useful content and to use the link as a reference. – user102 Sep 25 '14 at 20:12
  • @CharlesMorisset In general, I'd agree, but I'd end up quoting the entire post. Hopefully the excerpt I added is enough to satiate the reader. – mt3 Sep 27 '14 at 7:02

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