What We’re Looking For: Taking Your Session Proposal from Good to Excellent

10/31/17 3:00 pm

A Guest Post from by the ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2018 Program Committee:

The theme for the 2018 Joint Annual Meeting of CoSA, NAGARA, and SAA is Promoting Transparency. This theme acknowledges that archivists and records administrators embrace principles that foster the transparency of our actions and inspire confidence in both the record and our professions. We value transparency in the record and records processes, the responsibility it gives to our work and actions, and how it allows us to be held accountable by our constituencies. The programming offered at ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2018 will use that recognition to clearly and openly address why and how we do our work.

So, what takes a session proposal from good to excellent? Program Committee members’ thoughts on what they’ll be looking for during proposal evaluation follow. We hope that proposers will use this to craft excellent proposals as the deadline for submission—Wednesday, November 15—approaches!

  • For me, a good proposal is free from ambiguities. Ideally, after reading the proposal I will have clearly understood the submitter’s target audience(s), topic and contents, presentation methodology, and intended take-away(s) for the audience. (Debbie Bahn, Washington State Archives)
  • An excellent proposal provides a hook that will grab your audience. Also remember a catchy title should show how your topic is relevant and useful, and deliver truth in advertising. (Dorothy Davis, Alabama Department of Archives and History)
    To me, the best proposals have a clear focus and set of outcomes, regardless of topic. In other words, the submission addresses directly what information or experience they’re trying to convey and what they expect attendees to take away from the session. I’m more likely to approve a proposal with clear goals that doesn’t interest me than one in my area of focus that sort of meanders. (Brad Houston, City of Milwaukee)
  • A good proposal should have a direct and clear connection to the theme, not muddled or overly wordy. An excellent proposal would be direct but also communicate the enthusiasm the writer(s) have for the theme of the conference. Enthusiasm that would hopefully engage attendees if the proposal is chosen. (Christina Orozco)
  • Aside from being clear with why the proposal is important or has value to the profession, the types of sessions I find most rewarding are those that are framed to stimulate discussion and are less focused on simply recounting a case study. Proposals that demonstrate they are as much (if not more) for the audience to engage with or stimulate some new perspective, concept, or practice, and less for the panelists to hold forth on their niche project, would typically catch my eye for selection. (Dennis Riley, New York State Archives)
    I like when archivists share “what really happened” with their work, both the successes and the failures. Presenting archival practice in all its complexity allows attendees to learn from speakers’ breadth of experience rather than sit back and wish their institution was equipped with the same resources and opportunities. (Sara Seltzer, J. Paul Getty Trust)
  • I place a high value on sessions that discuss real-world issues that archives and records management professionals face every day, and focus on practical ways in which we can overcome these challenges. Does the session invite discussion of solutions, or does it simply highlight problems? The former brings greater value to the participants and attendees alike, and will be given more weight in my mind. (Kris Stenson, Oregon State Archives)
  • Proposals that show creativity in thought and processes, but that are grounded in the practicalities of daily archival work, will be what I will be looking for in proposals. Submissions that demonstrate more than an idea of how things could/should work, but rather illustrate the actual archival work (successfully or unsuccessfully) will be given my top priority. Also anything that includes user studies/surveys would be a plus. (Mitch Toda, Smithsonian Institution Archives)
  • This year I’m looking for proposals that will bring something fresh and new to the program. Some examples include inclusion of panelists or commentators that aren’t in a traditional archivist or records manager role; alternative and interactive formats—such as performances, role-plays, or games; or sessions on emerging and radical topics that the profession is just starting to talk about. I want to see proposers challenge our assumptions on what a session at the Joint Annual Meeting can be! (Meg Tuomala, Gates Archive)