WACD faces a potential contract penalty if we cancel our contract for the 2020 annual conference, but due to concerns about COVID-19, an in-person conference is not a safe certainty that we can plan on. Negotiations with the hotel resulted in an agreement to waive the contract penalty if WACD agrees to hold the annual conference at the hotel in 2021.
Before reaching the decision to hold the 2020 event as a virtual conference, WACD surveyed conservation district supervisors and staff as well as partners. Eighty-two people from our conservation community responded. The WACD board of directors reviewed a summary of the survey results prior to concluding that we could expect good participation and engagement if the more prudent choice of holding the event virtually was selected.
There are potential benefits to holding the annual conference virtually. For example, we expect that we will see participation from more conservation districts and partners than before. Costs to attendees should be greatly reduced. We may also be able to spread some of the annual conference events out across a few weeks of time instead of a few days, allowing attendees more time to digest information and to have conversations about important issues.
Several critical features identified by survey respondents will help define the work of this year’s Conference Planning Team. Because of the complexity of presenting a virtual conference and the challenges some attendees will face, we are expanding the Conference Planning Team to include representation from every area association in Washington State.
We have numerous primary issues to address, including:
- Creating structured (as well as unstructured) opportunities to facilitate productive networking.
- Ensuring a smooth business meeting.
- Working with quality presenters on relevant topics and providing ample opportunities for attendees to ask questions.
- Providing sound supervisor training.
There are also second and third-level priorities and logistical questions to answer. Perhaps most importantly, we need to do our absolute best to make sure that technology does not hinder anyone’s conference experience.