14 Oct 2021

Icon’s Impact: Running an Innovative Online Conference for the Icon Book & Paper Conference 2021

Pamela Murray and Kiri Douglas write about #BPG21


In summer 2021, the Icon Book and Paper Group (BPG) Conference Committee were gearing up to go live with ‘ModCons: Modern Conservation, Modern Constraints, Modern Conveniences’ – our 2021 BPG triennial conference. 


What did we want to achieve?

When the committee was first created, we had three goals:

  1. Reach new audiences
  2. Choose sustainable options
  3. Create a space for networking


What limitations did we face?

At the time of conference planning, Covid19 had still imposed strong lockdowns in the UK and abroad. We had already been testing how we could make our events more sustainable and accessible, by recording events or live streaming speakers. Therefore, we saw these Covid19 restrictions as an opportunity, rather than a limitation, and committed to our first all online event. This would ensure we could create a full and diverse programme that met our goals of choosing sustainable options and to reach new audiences. Conferences are known to be travel heavy, with some participants flying internationally to attend, whilst excluding others unable to travel.

Being completely volunteer-led, the planning committee was limited with the available time everyone had to offer in between their other commitments, such as work, caring responsibilities and so forth. However, having such a large committee meant tasks could be shared out, as everyone chipped in their time, which we extremely appreciated!

We worried that an online conference would limit networking opportunities,especially given how isolating Covid19 restrictions were to many. We therefore worked hard to find a platform that could create space and even encourage networking opportunities between attendees as well as enable them to engage with speakers. As the budget was self-funded (which may not sound like a restriction for a volunteer-run online event), this posed a limitation when looking for an online conference platform, as they tend to be more aligned to large corporate institutions, rather than our smaller community.


To improve accessibility and diversity a couple of new practices were implemented:

  1. Captioning of recorded videos, with free tickets offered to volunteer student captioners.
  2. A call out for non-committee members to sit on the selection panel. This brought in unique and helpful opinions for the selection process.


What did we do?

Our planning concluded in a 4 day online conference within the platform ‘Accelevents’, that included:

  • 4 keynote speakers
  • 18 papers presented
  • 4 lightning rounds of posters presented
  • 3 workshops
  • 4 tours
  • 1 roundtable discussion
  • “Rusty Staple” virtual pub meetup and a variety of social lounges 
  • 2 “speed” networking sessions, resulting in 222 pairs of connections.


What was the outcome?

Overall, we were very happy with the outcomes of the conference, with:

  • 25% attendance increase from 2018 (282 attendees)
  • 2,700 volunteered hours
  • Balance of £10,200
  • Postprint publication - https://tinyurl.com/4zenbvty 
  • A catalogue of captioned videos for Icon’s Youtube account.


A breakdown of tickets sold:

Ticket Type

Number of attendees



Full Access

77 (34 Early Bird)

87 (68 Early Bird)

Student Full Access

12 (8 Early Bird)

4 (4 Early Bird)

Day Tickets



Student Day Tickets



Free Admission

63 full access and 7 day tickets for presenters and captioners.


Despite the time difference, tickets were sold in 30 different countries. The conference platform was a helpful way for us to allow access to the videos across the conference and 30 days afterwards.

Other options would have involved using video platforms rather than specific conference ones, which although cheaper, had several problems. To begin with, more than one platform would have needed to be used, such as Zoom and Youtube, to cover both the live and recorded videos for attendees to access later. This would have also required more volunteer hours from the committee, required us to send out passwords, and risked more technical problems for the attendees when trying to gain access. Whilst the conference platform was something new for everyone to get used to, we thought it would cause less confusion having everything in one place. 

BPG21 Countries.png


BPG21 tickets by country.png


A post-conference feedback survey gave us useful information of what attendees thought, along with comments on the conference platform and social media:

  • “Thanks so much Pam, and congratulations to the whole team on what was an incredibly engaging and dynamic conference!”
  • Twitter - “Love the Icon conference platform. So much better than a Zoom fest.”
  • “You have really demonstrated how to make the most out of a conference platform.” 
  • “The most dynamic online conference I’ve attended.” 
BPG2021 Survey 1.png BPG2021 Survey 2.png BPG2021 Survey 3.png BPG2021 Survey 4.png


What did we learn?

Ultimately, this was a really exciting opportunity for BPG to try out a fully online event and see what aspects of it worked and what didn’t. 

With the platform, it was easy to adjust tickets and for the first time we offered an option for just a day ticket. We thought this might have been useful for those outside of the profession that may have only been interested in some of the topics within the conference. A total of 34 day tickets were sold, which may not seem that many, but with it being something we could easily offer, it was obviously the best fit for those who bought them. 

With half of survey respondents answering that they didn’t meet anyone new or reconnect with an old colleague, a mixture of in-person and online networking may improve this statistic. Whilst the speed networking worked well, many may have found the prospect quite daunting, or the timing of the session difficult to attend. However, having an online aspect definitely improved the accessibility of our event and moving forward to our next conference, we hope a hybrid option can provide an even better solution for reaching our goals.


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